Autobiographies (Penguin Classics)
Autobiographies (Penguin Classics)
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Self-taught and ambitious, Charles Darwin is most famous for his groundbreaking-and to some still controversial-theory of evolution and natural selection. In Autobiographies the great scientist weighs his career and his life.
Darwin's memoir concentrates on his public career and towering scientific achievements but is also full of moments from his private life. There are lively anecdotes about his family and contemporaries, as well as haunting memories of a mother he never knew, a hot-tempered father he could never please, and lingering doubts about the fitness of the genes he was passing on to his heirs.
Autobiographies comprises a fragment Darwin wrote at the age of twenty-nine and the longer "Recollections" of 1876, showing a man toward the end of his life who stands isolated, dogged by illness and self-doubt.
to do compatibly with truth. One old gentleman, however, Mr. Pemberton, caused him no such perplexity. He was sent for by Mr. Pemberton, who said, “From all that I have seen and heard of you I believe you are the sort of man who will speak the truth, and if I ask you will tell me when I am dying. Now I much desire that you should attend me, if you will promise, whatever I may say, always to declare that I am not going to die.” My father acquiesced on this understanding that his words should in
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
to some controversy in the Athenaeum newspaper and Nature. I laid all the documents before some good judges, viz. Huxley, Leslie Stephen, Litchfield, etc., and they were all unanimous that the attack was so baseless that it did not deserve any public answer; for I had already expressed privately my regret to Mr. Butler for my accidental omission. Huxley consoled me by quoting some German lines from Goethe, who had been attacked by someone, to the effect “that every Whale has its Louse.” In 1880
not a few men, who I feel sure have often thus been deterred from experiment or observations, which would have proved directly or indirectly serviceable. In illustration, I will give the oddest case which I have known. A gentleman (who, as I afterwards heard, was a good local botanist) wrote to me from the Eastern countries that the seeds or beans of the common fieldbean had this year everywhere grown on the wrong side of the pod. I wrote back, asking for further information, as I did not
another foreign secretary, Canning, in 1809, when he felt deceived by him); he was also the embodiment of the war against Napoleon and the sly and tyrannous organizer of a domestic war against alleged political subversives in the late eighteen-teens. (It is Castlereagh’s mask that murder wears in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem The Mask of Anarchy of 1819.) The captain of the vessel upon which Darwin sailed was a relative who shared some of the characteristics for which Castlereagh was famous – he