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Chapter 7

In the early part of 1844, my observations on the volcanic
islands visited during the voyage of the "Beagle" were published.
In 1845, I took much pains in correcting a new edition of my
'Journal of Researches,' which was originally published in 1839
as part of Fitz-Roy's work. The success of this, my first
literary child, always tickles my vanity more than that of any of
my other books. Even to this day it sells steadily in England
and the United States, and has been translated for the second
time into German, and into French and other languages. This
success of a book of travels, especially of a scientific one, so
many years after its first publication, is surprising. Ten
thousand copies have been sold in England of the second edition.
In 1846 my 'Geological Observations on South America' were
published. I record in a little diary, which I have always kept,
that my three geological books ('Coral Reefs' included) consumed
four and a half years' steady work; "and now it is ten years
since my return to England. How much time have I lost by
illness?" I have nothing to say about these three books except
that to my surprise new editions have lately been called for.
('Geological Observations,' 2nd Edit.1876. 'Coral Reefs,' 2nd
Edit. 1874.)

In October, 1846, I began to work on 'Cirripedia.' When on the
coast of Chile, I found a most curious form, which burrowed into
the shells of Concholepas, and which differed so much from all
other Cirripedes that I had to form a new sub-order for its sole
reception. Lately an allied burrowing genus has been found on
the shores of Portugal. To understand the structure of my new
Cirripede I had to examine and dissect many of the common forms;
and this gradually led me on to take up the whole group. I
worked steadily on this subject for the next eight years, and
ultimately published two thick volumes (Published by the Ray
Society.), describing all the known living species, and two thin
quartos on the extinct species. I do not doubt that Sir E.
Lytton Bulwer had me in his mind when he introduced in one of his
novels a Professor Long, who had written two huge volumes on

Although I was employed during eight years on this work, yet I
record in my diary that about two years out of this time was lost
by illness. On this account I went in 1848 for some months to
Malvern for hydropathic treatment, which did me much good, so
that on my return home I was able to resume work. So much was I
out of health that when my dear father died on November 13th,
1848, I was unable to attend his funeral or to act as one of his

My work on the Cirripedia possesses, I think, considerable value,
as besides describing several new and remarkable forms, I made
out the homologies of the various parts--I discovered the
cementing apparatus, though I blundered dreadfully about the
cement glands--and lastly I proved the existence in certain
genera of minute males complemental to and parasitic on the
hermaphrodites. This latter discovery has at last been fully
confirmed; though at one time a German writer was pleased to
attribute the whole account to my fertile imagination. The
Cirripedes form a highly varying and difficult group of species
to class; and my work was of considerable use to me, when I had
to discuss in the 'Origin of Species' the principles of a natural
classification. Nevertheless, I doubt whether the work was worth
the consumption of so much time.

>From September 1854 I devoted my whole time to arranging my huge
pile of notes, to observing, and to experimenting in relation to
the transmutation of species. During the voyage of the "Beagle"
I had been deeply impressed by discovering in the Pampean
formation great fossil animals covered with armour like that on
the existing armadillos; secondly, by the manner in which closely
allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over
the Continent; and thirdly, by the South American character of
most of the productions of the Galapagos archipelago, and more
especially by the manner in which they differ slightly on each
island of the group; none of the islands appearing to be very
ancient in a geological sense.

It was evident that such facts as these, as well as many others,
could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually
become modified; and the subject haunted me. But it was equally
evident that neither the action of the surrounding conditions,
nor the will of the organisms (especially in the case of plants)
could account for the innumerable cases in which organisms of
every kind are beautifully adapted to their habits of life--for
instance, a woodpecker or a tree-frog to climb trees, or a seed
for dispersal by hooks or plumes. I had always been much struck
by such adaptations, and until these could be explained it seemed
to me almost useless to endeavour to prove by indirect evidence
that species have been modified.

After my return to England it appeared to me that by following
the example of Lyell in Geology, and by collecting all facts
which bore in any way on the variation of animals and plants
under domestication and nature, some light might perhaps be
thrown on the whole subject. My first note-book was opened in
July 1837. I worked on true Baconian principles, and without any
theory collected facts on a wholesale scale, more especially with
respect to domesticated productions, by printed enquiries, by
conversation with skilful breeders and gardeners, and by
extensive reading. When I see the list of books of all kinds
which I read and abstracted, including whole series of Journals
and Transactions, I am surprised at my industry. I soon
perceived that selection was the keystone of man's success in
making useful races of animals and plants. But how selection
could be applied to organisms living in a state of nature
remained for some time a mystery to me.

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 everywhere 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. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work;
but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not
for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it. In June
1842 I first allowed myself the satisfaction of writing a very
brief abstract of my theory in pencil in 35 pages; and this was
enlarged during the summer of 1844 into one of 230 pages, which I
had fairly copied out and still possess.

But at that time I overlooked one problem of great importance;
and it is astonishing to me, except on the principle of Columbus
and his egg, how I could have overlooked it and its solution.
This problem is the tendency in organic beings descended from the
same stock to diverge in character as they become modified. That
they have diverged greatly is obvious from the manner in which
species of all kinds can be classed under genera, genera under
families, families under sub-orders and so forth; and I can
remember the very spot in the road, whilst in my carriage, when
to my joy the solution occurred to me; and this was long after I
had come to Down. The solution, as I believe, is that the
modified offspring of all dominant and increasing forms tend to
become adapted to many and highly diversified places in the
economy of nature.

Early in 1856 Lyell advised me to write out my views pretty
fully, and I began at once to do so on a scale three or four
times as extensive as that which was afterwards followed in my
'Origin of Species;' yet it was only an abstract of the materials
which I had collected, and I got through about half the work on
this scale. But my plans were overthrown, for early in the
summer of 1858 Mr. Wallace, who was then in the Malay
archipelago, sent me an essay "On the Tendency of Varieties to
depart indefinitely from the Original Type;" and this essay
contained exactly the same theory as mine. Mr. Wallace expressed
the wish that if I thought well of his essay, I should sent it to
Lyell for perusal.

The circumstances under which I consented at the request of Lyell
and Hooker to allow of an abstract from my MS., together with a
letter to Asa Gray, dated September 5, 1857, to be published at
the same time with Wallace's Essay, are given in the 'Journal of
the Proceedings of the Linnean Society,' 1858, page 45. I was at
first very unwilling to consent, as I thought Mr. Wallace might
consider my doing so unjustifiable, for I did not then know how
generous and noble was his disposition. The extract from my MS.
and the letter to Asa Gray had neither been intended for
publication, and were badly written. Mr. Wallace's essay, on the
other hand, was admirably expressed and quite clear.
Nevertheless, our joint productions excited very little
attention, and the only published notice of them which I can
remember was by Professor Haughton of Dublin, whose verdict was
that all that was new in them was false, and what was true was
old. This shows how necessary it is that any new view should be
explained at considerable length in order to arouse public

In September 1858 I set to work by the strong advice of Lyell and
Hooker to prepare a volume on the transmutation of species, but
was often interrupted by ill-health, and short visits to Dr.
Lane's delightful hydropathic establishment at Moor Park. I
abstracted the MS. begun on a much larger scale in 1856, and
completed the volume on the same reduced scale. It cost me
thirteen months and ten days' hard labour. It was published
under the title of the 'Origin of Species,' in November 1859.
Though considerably added to and corrected in the later editions,
it has remained substantially the same book.

It is no doubt the chief work of my life. It was from the first
highly successful. The first small edition of 1250 copies was
sold on the day of publication, and a second edition of 3000
copies soon afterwards. Sixteen thousand copies have now (1876)
been sold in England; and considering how stiff a book it is,
this is a large sale. It has been translated into almost every
European tongue, even into such languages as Spanish, Bohemian,
Polish, and Russian. It has also, according to Miss Bird, been
translated into Japanese (Miss Bird is mistaken, as I learn from
Prof. Mitsukuri.--F.D.), and is there much studied. Even an
essay in Hebrew has appeared on it, showing that the theory is
contained in the Old Testament! The reviews were very numerous;
for some time I collected all that appeared on the 'Origin' and
on my related books, and these amount (excluding newspaper
reviews) to 265; but after a time I gave up the attempt in
despair. Many separate essays and books on the subject have
appeared; and in Germany a catalogue or bibliography on
"Darwinismus" has appeared every year or two.

The success of the 'Origin' may, I think, be attributed in large
part to my having long before written two condensed sketches, and
to my having finally abstracted a much larger manuscript, which
was itself an abstract. By this means I was enabled to select
the more striking facts and conclusions. I had, also, during
many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a
published fact, a new observation or thought came across me,
which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of
it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that
such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the
memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few
objections were raised against my views which I had not at least
noticed and attempted to answer.

It has sometimes been said that the success of the 'Origin'
proved "that the subject was in the air," or "that men's minds
were prepared for it." I do not think that this is strictly
true, for I occasionally sounded not a few naturalists, and never
happened to come across a single one who seemed to doubt about
the permanence of species. Even Lyell and Hooker, though they
would listen with interest to me, never seemed to agree. I tried
once or twice to explain to able men what I meant by Natural
Selection, but signally failed. What I believe was strictly true
is that innumerable well-observed facts were stored in the minds
of naturalists ready to take their proper places as soon as any
theory which would receive them was sufficiently explained.
Another element in the success of the book was its moderate size;
and this I owe to the appearance of Mr. Wallace's essay; had I
published on the scale in which I began to write in 1856, the
book would have been four or five times as large as the 'Origin,'
and very few would have had the patience to read it.

I gained much by my delay in publishing from about 1839, when the
theory was clearly conceived, to 1859; and I lost nothing by it,
for I cared very little whether men attributed most originality
to me or Wallace; and his essay no doubt aided in the reception
of the theory. I was forestalled in only one important point,
which my vanity has always made me regret, namely, the
explanation by means of the Glacial period of the presence of the
same species of plants and of some few animals on distant
mountain summits and in the arctic regions. This view pleased me
so much that I wrote it out in extenso, and I believe that it was
read by Hooker some years before E. Forbes published his
celebrated memoir ('Geolog. Survey Mem.,' 1846.) on the subject.
In the very few points in which we differed, I still think that I
was in the right. I have never, of course, alluded in print to
my having independently worked out this view.

Hardly any point gave me so much satisfaction when I was at work
on the 'Origin,' as the explanation of the wide difference in
many classes between the embryo and the adult animal, and of the
close resemblance of the embryos within the same class. No
notice of this point was taken, as far as I remember, in the
early reviews of the 'Origin,' and I recollect expressing my
surprise on this head in a letter to Asa Gray. Within late years
several reviewers have given the whole credit to Fritz Muller and
Hackel, who undoubtedly have worked it out much more fully, and
in some respects more correctly than I did. I had materials for
a whole chapter on the subject, and I ought to have made the
discussion longer; for it is clear that I failed to impress my
readers; and he who succeeds in doing so deserves, in my opinion,
all the credit.

This leads me to remark that I have almost always been treated
honestly by my reviewers, passing over those without scientific
knowledge as not worthy of notice. My views have often been
grossly misrepresented, bitterly opposed and ridiculed, but this
has been generally done, as I believe, in good faith. On the
whole I do not doubt that my works have been over and over again
greatly overpraised. I rejoice that I have avoided
controversies, and this I owe to Lyell, who many years ago, in
reference to my geological works, strongly advised me never to
get entangled in a controversy, as it rarely did any good and
caused a miserable loss of time and temper.

Whenever I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work
has been imperfect, and when I have been contemptuously
criticised, and even when I have been overpraised, so that I have
felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds
of times to myself that "I have worked as hard and as well as I
could, and no man can do more than this." I remember when in
Good Success Bay, in Tierra del Fuego, thinking (and, I believe,
that I wrote home to the effect) that I could not employ my life
better than in adding a little to Natural Science. This I have
done to the best of my abilities, and critics may say what they
like, but they cannot destroy this conviction.

During the two last months of 1859 I was fully occupied in
preparing a second edition of the 'Origin,' and by an enormous
correspondence. On January 1st, 1860, I began arranging my notes
for my work on the 'Variation of Animals and Plants under
Domestication;' but it was not published until the beginning of
1868; the delay having been caused partly by frequent illnesses,
one of which lasted seven months, and partly by being tempted to
publish on other subjects which at the time interested me more.

On May 15th, 1862, my little book on the 'Fertilisation of
Orchids,' which cost me ten months' work, was published: most of
the facts had been slowly accumulated during several previous
years. During the summer of 1839, and, I believe, during the
previous summer, I was led to attend to the cross-fertilisation
of flowers by the aid of insects, from having come to the
conclusion in my speculations on the origin of species, that
crossing played an important part in keeping specific forms
constant. I attended to the subject more or less during every
subsequent summer; and my interest in it was greatly enhanced by
having procured and read in November 1841, through the advice of
Robert Brown, a copy of C.K. Sprengel's wonderful book, 'Das
entdeckte Geheimniss der Natur.' For some years before 1862 I
had specially attended to the fertilisation of our British
orchids; and it seemed to me the best plan to prepare as complete
a treatise on this group of plants as well as I could, rather
than to utilise the great mass of matter which I had slowly
collected with respect to other plants.

My resolve proved a wise one; for since the appearance of my
book, a surprising number of papers and separate works on the
fertilisation of all kinds of flowers have appeared: and these
are far better done than I could possibly have effected. The
merits of poor old Sprengel, so long overlooked, are now fully
recognised many years after his death.

During the same year I published in the 'Journal of the Linnean
Society' a paper "On the Two Forms, or Dimorphic Condition of
Primula," and during the next five years, five other papers on
dimorphic and trimorphic plants. I do not think anything in my
scientific life has given me so much satisfaction as making out
the meaning of the structure of these plants. I had noticed in
1838 or 1839 the dimorphism of Linum flavum, and had at first
thought that it was merely a case of unmeaning variability. But
on examining the common species of Primula I found that the two
forms were much too regular and constant to be thus viewed. I
therefore became almost convinced that the common cowslip and
primrose were on the high road to become dioecious;--that the
short pistil in the one form, and the short stamens in the other
form were tending towards abortion. The plants were therefore
subjected under this point of view to trial; but as soon as the
flowers with short pistils fertilised with pollen from the short
stamens, were found to yield more seeds than any other of the
four possible unions, the abortion-theory was knocked on the
head. After some additional experiment, it became evident that
the two forms, though both were perfect hermaphrodites, bore
almost the same relation to one another as do the two sexes of an
ordinary animal. With Lythrum we have the still more wonderful
case of three forms standing in a similar relation to one
another. I afterwards found that the offspring from the union of
two plants belonging to the same forms presented a close and
curious analogy with hybrids from the union of two distinct

In the autumn of 1864 I finished a long paper on 'Climbing
Plants,' and sent it to the Linnean Society. The writing of this
paper cost me four months; but I was so unwell when I received
the proof-sheets that I was forced to leave them very badly and
often obscurely expressed. The paper was little noticed, but
when in 1875 it was corrected and published as a separate book it
sold well. I was led to take up this subject by reading a short
paper by Asa Gray, published in 1858. He sent me seeds, and on
raising some plants I was so much fascinated and perplexed by the
revolving movements of the tendrils and stems, which movements
are really very simple, though appearing at first sight very
complex, that I procured various other kinds of climbing plants,
and studied the whole subject. I was all the more attracted to
it, from not being at all satisfied with the explanation which
Henslow gave us in his lectures, about twining plants, namely,
that they had a natural tendency to grow up in a spire. This
explanation proved quite erroneous. Some of the adaptations
displayed by Climbing Plants are as beautiful as those of Orchids
for ensuring cross-fertilisation.

My 'Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication' was
begun, as already stated, in the beginning of 1860, but was not
published until the beginning of 1868. It was a big book, and
cost me four years and two months' hard labour. It gives all my
observations and an immense number of facts collected from
various sources, about our domestic productions. In the second
volume the causes and laws of variation, inheritance, etc., are
discussed as far as our present state of knowledge permits.
Towards the end of the work I give my well-abused hypothesis of
Pangenesis. An unverified hypothesis is of little or no value;
but if anyone should hereafter be led to make observations by
which some such hypothesis could be established, I shall have
done good service, as an astonishing number of isolated facts can
be thus connected together and rendered intelligible. In 1875 a
second and largely corrected edition, which cost me a good deal
of labour, was brought out.

My 'Descent of Man' was published in February, 1871. As soon as
I had become, in the year 1837 or 1838, convinced that species
were mutable productions, I could not avoid the belief that man
must come under the same law. Accordingly I collected notes on
the subject for my own satisfaction, and not for a long time with
any intention of publishing. Although in the 'Origin of Species'
the derivation of any particular species is never discussed, yet
I thought it best, in order that no honourable man should accuse
me of concealing my views, to add that by the work "light would
be thrown on the origin of man and his history." It would have
been useless and injurious to the success of the book to have
paraded, without giving any evidence, my conviction with respect
to his origin.

But when I found that many naturalists fully accepted the
doctrine of the evolution of species, it seemed to me advisable
to work up such notes as I possessed, and to publish a special
treatise on the origin of man. I was the more glad to do so, as
it gave me an opportunity of fully discussing sexual selection--a
subject which had always greatly interested me. This subject,
and that of the variation of our domestic productions, together
with the causes and laws of variation, inheritance, and the
intercrossing of plants, are the sole subjects which I have been
able to write about in full, so as to use all the materials which
I have collected. The 'Descent of Man' took me three years to
write, but then as usual some of this time was lost by ill
health, and some was consumed by preparing new editions and other
minor works. A second and largely corrected edition of the
'Descent' appeared in 1874.

My book on the 'Expression of the Emotions in Men and Animals'
was published in the autumn of 1872. I had intended to give only
a chapter on the subject in the 'Descent of Man,' but as soon as
I began to put my notes together, I saw that it would require a
separate treatise.

My first child was born on December 27th, 1839, and I at once
commenced to make notes on the first dawn of the various
expressions which he exhibited, for I felt convinced, even at
this early period, that the most complex and fine shades of
expression must all have had a gradual and natural origin.
During the summer of the following year, 1840, I read Sir C.
Bell's admirable work on expression, and this greatly increased
the interest which I felt in the subject, though I could not at
all agree with his belief that various muscles had been specially
created for the sake of expression. From this time forward I
occasionally attended to the subject, both with respect to man
and our domesticated animals. My book sold largely; 5267 copies
having been disposed of on the day of publication.

In the summer of 1860 I was idling and resting near Hartfield,
where two species of Drosera abound; and I noticed that numerous
insects had been entrapped by the leaves. I carried home some
plants, and on giving them insects saw the movements of the
tentacles, and this made me think it probable that the insects
were caught for some special purpose. Fortunately a crucial test
occurred to me, that of placing a large number of leaves in
various nitrogenous and non-nitrogenous fluids of equal density;
and as soon as I found that the former alone excited energetic
movements, it was obvious that here was a fine new field for

During subsequent years, whenever I had leisure, I pursued my
experiments, and my book on 'Insectivorous Plants' was published
in July 1875--that is, sixteen years after my first observations.
The delay in this case, as with all my other books, has been a
great advantage to me; for a man after a long interval can
criticise his own work, almost as well as if it were that of
another person. The fact that a plant should secrete, when
properly excited, a fluid containing an acid and ferment, closely
analogous to the digestive fluid of an animal, was certainly a
remarkable discovery.

During this autumn of 1876 I shall publish on the 'Effects of
Cross and Self-Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom.' This
book will form a complement to that on the 'Fertilisation of
Orchids,' in which I showed how perfect were the means for cross-
fertilisation, and here I shall show how important are the
results. I was led to make, during eleven years, the numerous
experiments recorded in this volume, by a mere accidental
observation; and indeed it required the accident to be repeated
before my attention was thoroughly aroused to the remarkable fact
that seedlings of self-fertilised parentage are inferior, even in
the first generation, in height and vigour to seedlings of cross-
fertilised parentage. I hope also to republish a revised edition
of my book on Orchids, and hereafter my papers on dimorphic and
trimorphic plants, together with some additional observations on
allied points which I never have had time to arrange. My
strength will then probably be exhausted, and I shall be ready to
exclaim "Nunc dimittis."


'The Effects of Cross and Self-Fertilisation' was published in
the autumn of 1876; and the results there arrived at explain, as
I believe, the endless and wonderful contrivances for the
transportal of pollen from one plant to another of the same
species. I now believe, however, chiefly from the observations
of Hermann Muller, that I ought to have insisted more strongly
than I did on the many adaptations for self-fertilisation; though
I was well aware of many such adaptations. A much enlarged
edition of my 'Fertilisation of Orchids' was published in 1877.

In this same year 'The Different Forms of Flowers, etc.,'
appeared, and in 1880 a second edition. This book consists
chiefly of the several papers on Heterostyled flowers originally
published by the Linnean Society, corrected, with much new matter
added, together with observations on some other cases in which
the same plant bears two kinds of flowers. As before remarked,
no little discovery of mine ever gave me so much pleasure as the
making out the meaning of heterostyled flowers. The results of
crossing such flowers in an illegitimate manner, I believe to be
very important, as bearing on the sterility of hybrids; although
these results have been noticed by only a few persons.

In 1879, I had a translation of Dr. Ernst Krause's 'Life of
Erasmus Darwin' published, and I added a sketch of his character
and habits from material in my possession. Many persons have
been much interested by this little life, and I am surprised that
only 800 or 900 copies were sold.

In 1880 I published, with [my son] Frank's assistance, our 'Power
of Movement in Plants.' This was a tough piece of work. The
book bears somewhat the same relation to my little book on
'Climbing Plants,' which 'Cross-Fertilisation' did to the
'Fertilisation of Orchids;' for in accordance with the principle
of evolution it was impossible to account for climbing plants
having been developed in so many widely different groups unless
all kinds of plants possess some slight power of movement of an
analogous kind. This I proved to be the case; and I was further
led to a rather wide generalisation, viz. that the great and
important classes of movements, excited by light, the attraction
of gravity, etc., are all modified forms of the fundamental
movement of circumnutation. It has always pleased me to exalt
plants in the scale of organised beings; and I therefore felt an
especial pleasure in showing how many and what admirably well
adapted movements the tip of a root possesses.

I have now (May 1, 1881) sent to the printers the MS. of a little
book on 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of
Worms.' This is a subject of but small importance; and I know
not whether it will interest any readers (Between November 1881
and February 1884, 8500 copies have been sold.), but it has
interested me. It is the completion of a short paper read before
the Geological Society more than forty years ago, and has revived
old geological thoughts.

I have now mentioned all the books which I have published, and
these have been the milestones in my life, so that little remains
to be said. I am not conscious of any change in my mind during
the last thirty years, excepting in one point presently to be
mentioned; nor, indeed, could any change have been expected
unless one of general deterioration. But my father lived to his
eighty-third year with his mind as lively as ever it was, and all
his faculties undimmed; and I hope that I may die before my mind
fails to a sensible extent. I think that I have become a little
more skilful in guessing right explanations and in devising
experimental tests; but this may probably be the result of mere
practice, and of a larger store of knowledge. I have as much
difficulty as ever in expressing myself clearly and concisely;
and this difficulty has caused me a very great loss of time; but
it has had the compensating advantage of forcing me to think long
and intently about every sentence, and thus I have been led to
see errors in reasoning and in my own observations or those of

There seems to be a sort of fatality in my mind leading me to put
at first my statement or proposition in a wrong or awkward form.
Formerly I used to think about my sentences before writing them
down; but for several years I have found that it saves time to
scribble in a vile hand whole pages as quickly as I possibly can,
contracting half the words; and then correct deliberately.
Sentences thus scribbled down are often better ones than I could
have written deliberately.

Having said thus much about my manner of writing, I will add that
with my large books I spend a good deal of time over the general
arrangement of the matter. I first make the rudest outline in
two or three pages, and then a larger one in several pages, a few
words or one word standing for a whole discussion or series of
facts. Each one of these headings is again enlarged and often
transferred before I begin to write in extenso. As in several of
my books facts observed by others have been very extensively
used, and as I have always had several quite distinct subjects in
hand at the same time, I may mention that I keep from thirty to
forty large portfolios, in cabinets with labelled shelves, into
which I can at once put a detached reference or memorandum. I
have bought many books, and at their ends I make an index of all
the facts that concern my work; or, if the book is not my own,
write out a separate abstract, and of such abstracts I have a
large drawer full. Before beginning on any subject I look to all
the short indexes and make a general and classified index, and by
taking the one or more proper portfolios I have all the
information collected during my life ready for use.

I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the
last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond
it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray,
Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great
pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in
Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also
said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very
great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a
line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and
found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also
almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets
me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on,
instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine
scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it
formerly did. On the other hand, novels which are works of the
imagination, though not of a very high order, have been for years
a wonderful relief and pleasure to me, and I often bless all
novelists. A surprising number have been read aloud to me, and I
like all if moderately good, and if they do not end unhappily--
against which a law ought to be passed. A novel, according to my
taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some
person whom one can thoroughly love, and if a pretty woman all
the better.

This curious and lamentable loss of the higher aesthetic tastes
is all the odder, as books on history, biographies, and travels
(independently of any scientific facts which they may contain),
and essays on all sorts of subjects interest me as much as ever
they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for
grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why
this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain
alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A
man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than
mine, would not, I suppose, have thus suffered; and if I had to
live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry
and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps
the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept
active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of
happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and
more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional
part of our nature.

My books have sold largely in England, have been translated into
many languages, and passed through several editions in foreign
countries. I have heard it said that the success of a work
abroad is the best test of its enduring value. I doubt whether
this is at all trustworthy; but judged by this standard my name
ought to last for a few years. Therefore it may be worth while
to try to analyse the mental qualities and the conditions on
which my success has depended; though I am aware that no man can
do this correctly.

I have no great quickness of apprehension or wit which is so
remarkable in some clever men, for instance, Huxley. I am
therefore a poor critic: a paper or book, when first read,
generally excites my admiration, and it is only after
considerable reflection that I perceive the weak points. My
power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is
very limited; and therefore I could never have succeeded with
metaphysics or mathematics. My memory is extensive, yet hazy:
it suffices to make me cautious by vaguely telling me that I have

observed or read something opposed to the conclusion which I am
drawing, or on the other hand in favour of it; and after a time I
can generally recollect where to search for my authority. So
poor in one sense is my memory, that I have never been able to
remember for more than a few days a single date or a line of

Some of my critics have said, "Oh, he is a good observer, but he
has no power of reasoning!" I do not think that this can be
true, for the 'Origin of Species' is one long argument from the
beginning to the end, and it has convinced not a few able men.
No one could have written it without having some power of
reasoning. I have a fair share of invention, and of common sense
or judgment, such as every fairly successful lawyer or doctor
must have, but not, I believe, in any higher degree.

On the favourable side of the balance, I think that I am superior
to the common run of men in noticing things which easily escape
attention, and in observing them carefully. My industry has been
nearly as great as it could have been in the observation and
collection of facts. What is far more important, my love of
natural science has been steady and ardent.

This pure love has, however, been much aided by the ambition to
be esteemed by my fellow naturalists. From my early youth I have
had the strongest desire to understand or explain whatever I
observed,--that is, to group all facts under some general laws.
These causes combined have given me the patience to reflect or
ponder for any number of years over any unexplained problem. As
far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of
other men. I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free so
as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot
resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown
to be opposed to it. Indeed, I have had no choice but to act in
this manner, for with the exception of the Coral Reefs, I cannot
remember a single first-formed hypothesis which had not after a
time to be given up or greatly modified. This has naturally led
me to distrust greatly deductive reasoning in the mixed sciences.
On the other hand, I am not very sceptical,--a frame of mind
which I believe to be injurious to the progress of science. A
good deal of scepticism in a scientific man is advisable to avoid
much loss of time, but I have met with not a few men, who, I feel
sure, have often thus been deterred from experiment or
observations, which would have proved directly or indirectly

In illustration, I will give the oddest case which I have known.
A gentleman (who, as I afterwards heard, is a good local
botanist) wrote to me from the Eastern counties that the seed or
beans of the common field-bean had this year everywhere grown on
the wrong side of the pod. I wrote back, asking for further
information, as I did not understand what was meant; but I did
not receive any answer for a very long time. I then saw in two
newspapers, one published in Kent and the other in Yorkshire,
paragraphs stating that it was a most remarkable fact that "the
beans this year had all grown on the wrong side." So I thought
there must be some foundation for so general a statement.
Accordingly, I went to my gardener, an old Kentish man, and asked
him whether he had heard anything about it, and he answered, "Oh,
no, sir, it must be a mistake, for the beans grow on the wrong
side only on leap-year, and this is not leap-year." I then asked
him how they grew in common years and how on leap-years, but soon
found that he knew absolutely nothing of how they grew at any
time, but he stuck to his belief.

After a time I heard from my first informant, who, with many
apologies, said that he should not have written to me had he not
heard the statement from several intelligent farmers; but that he
had since spoken again to every one of them, and not one knew in
the least what he had himself meant. So that here a belief--if
indeed a statement with no definite idea attached to it can be
called a belief--had spread over almost the whole of England
without any vestige of evidence.

I have known in the course of my life only three intentionally
falsified statements, and one of these may have been a hoax (and
there have been several scientific hoaxes) which, however, took
in an American Agricultural Journal. It related to the formation
in Holland of a new breed of oxen by the crossing of distinct
species of Bos (some of which I happen to know are sterile
together), and the author had the impudence to state that he had
corresponded with me, and that I had been deeply impressed with
the importance of his result. The article was sent to me by the
editor of an English Agricultural Journal, asking for my opinion
before republishing it.

A second case was an account of several varieties, raised by the
author from several species of Primula, which had spontaneously
yielded a full complement of seed, although the parent plants had
been carefully protected from the access of insects. This
account was published before I had discovered the meaning of
heterostylism, and the whole statement must have been fraudulent,
or there was neglect in excluding insects so gross as to be
scarcely credible.

The third case was more curious: Mr. Huth published in his book
on 'Consanguineous Marriage' some long extracts from a Belgian
author, who stated that he had interbred rabbits in the closest
manner for very many generations, without the least injurious
effects. The account was published in a most respectable
Journal, that of the Royal Society of Belgium; but I could not
avoid feeling doubts--I hardly know why, except that there were
no accidents of any kind, and my experience in breeding animals
made me think this very improbable.

So with much hesitation I wrote to Professor Van Beneden, asking
him whether the author was a trustworthy man. I soon heard in
answer that the Society had been greatly shocked by discovering
that the whole account was a fraud. (The falseness of the
published statements on which Mr. Huth relied has been pointed
out by himself in a slip inserted in all the copies of his book
which then remained unsold.) The writer had been publicly
challenged in the Journal to say where he had resided and kept
his large stock of rabbits while carrying on his experiments,
which must have consumed several years, and no answer could be
extracted from him.

My habits are methodical, and this has been of not a little use
for my particular line of work. Lastly, I have had ample leisure
from not having to earn my own bread. Even ill-health, though it
has annihilated several years of my life, has saved me from the
distractions of society and amusement.

Therefore my success as a man of science, whatever this may have
amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can judge, by
complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of
these, the most important have been--the love of science--
unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject--industry
in observing and collecting facts--and a fair share of invention
as well as of common sense. With such moderate abilities as I
possess, it is truly surprising that I should have influenced to
a considerable extent the belief of scientific men on some
important points.

Charles Darwin

Cambridge 1828-1831.

Voyage of the Beagle

From My Return to England



My Several Publications

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