‘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.’
Charles Darwin (from: “The Autobiography of Charles Darwin”)
2.1 Darwin’s ambition
Reason leads us to the best. And when reason rules, man shows temperance, according to Socrates. Charles Darwin’s course of action is a wonderful example of this. A great introduction to relate the head, the charioteer, the systematic or thinking self, and Self Direction.
Love of natural science
Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. He died on April 16, 1882. On April 26, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, near some of the great of the earth, including the most famous physicist Isaac Newton. In his lifetime, he gathered an incredible amount of information about nature. His list of publications is enormous. Darwin’s most famous book is On the Origin of Species. In it he lays out his theory of the evolution of life and the origin of species. The mechanism of natural selection turns the world upside down. The species that is best adapted to the (changing) circumstances has the best chance to survive and provide for offspring. Man evolved from spongy creatures from the deep ocean, and was not created in the image of a god. By now, his theory of evolution has been accepted by science, but it is questioned or dismissed as nonsense by religious movements to this day. Darwin owes his fame and reputation to this book.
In addition, Darwin also published on coral reefs, the geology of volcanoes, the geology of South America, barnacles, how insects pollinate orchids, domesticated animals and plants, flowers and plants, worms, humans, emotions in humans and animals, and of course his voyage on the Beagle. And he also wrote thousands of letters to people all over the world. People with whom he shared information and who did research for him. 14,000 of these letters from Darwin were made public only a few years ago.
From the moment Darwin went sailing with the Beagle on December 27, 1831 – he was 22 years old – until his death at the age of 73, he devoted himself with great zeal to observing and collecting facts about nature. Darwin writes in his autobiography: ‘My industry has been nearly as great as it could have been in the observation and collection of facts.’ This stems from his ‘love of natural sciences’ which has been ‘steady and ardent’. Of this love, Darwin writes: ‘This pure love has, however, been much aided by the ambition to be esteemed by my fellow naturalists.’ Darwin’s zeal was fueled by an ambition to be respected.
What caused this ambition to develop? Two books help to learn more about this. First of all, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, which he wrote for his children. With this book, he wanted to give them an insight into his realm of ideas: How he thought, what he did and how he worked. He wrote it as if he were looking back on his life from another world. And secondly, the book Darwin, the Biography by Adrian Desmond and James Moore.
Darwin’s father believes that a person with a strong mind has memories that go back to a very early stage of life. For Darwin, this is not the case. His earliest memories date from after the age of four. His mother dies when he is eight and he has hardly any memories of his mother except her deathbed. His sisters are partly responsible for this because, due to their great sorrow, they no longer talk about his mother.
About his time at school, Darwin says that he learned more slowly than his sisters and was naughty in many ways. He is frequently scolded by an older sister. He tells friends falsehoods, such as that he can make colored flowers by watering them with different dyes. He steals fruit for the purpose of causing excitement. It pleases him when boys in the neighborhood admire him for being able to run so fast, even though they probably just say that to get apples from him.
His interest in biology is already present at age eight. Darwin collects plants and wants to know their names.
He also collects shells, minerals, coins, seals, and other things. Darwin shows himself to be an avid collector, which makes him a systematic naturalist. He enjoys long walks by himself. He loves fishing, staring at a float for hours at the edge of a lake or river. He prefers not to mistreat worms, killing them with salt water so he doesn’t have to pierce them alive.
When Darwin is nine years old, he is sent to a boarding school a mile from his home. He stays there until he is sixteen years old. During those years, he often “flees” home during school breaks. Being at home is useful to him because there he isn’t deprived of affection and interest. He looks back on this school period with not too much pleasure; moreover, he considers it a fruitless time: ‘Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind.’ He has great difficulty learning a language, and language in general. ‘Much attention was paid to learning by heart the lessons of the previous day; this I could effect with great facility, learning forty or fifty lines of Virgil or Homer, whilst I was in morning chapel; but this exercise was utterly useless, for every verse was forgotten in forty-eight hours.’ When he leaves school, his teachers and his father consider him ‘a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect.’ His father sees him as a troubled child, perhaps retarded. On one occasion, his father explodes and shouts at him: ‘You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.’ To Darwin, this feels like a deep mortification.
He does not speak evil of his father. He calls him a remarkable man. The biggest and kindest he has ever known. His father is burly, six feet three inches tall and weighing over 330 pounds. He praises him for his spiritual attributes: strong powers of observation, full of compassion, generous, boundless ability to win trust, extraordinarily successful doctor, a remarkable and sometimes supernatural ability to read characters, skilled at predicting the course of a patient’s illness, an exceptional memory, and a sensitive human being.
When Darwin lists his childhood characteristics that promised something good for the future, the list is considerably shorter.
‘I had strong and diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, and a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing.’ He enjoys reading Shakespeare and other poetry. At thirteen, Darwin first becomes aware of ‘a vivid delight in scenery.’ He reads the book Wonders of the World which makes him long to travel to distant lands for the first time. And by the end of his school days, he has developed a passion for hunting. Together with his brother, he does all kinds of chemistry experiments.
His father pulls him out of school at sixteen because Darwin is not performing well. He sends him to Edinburgh University to study medicine, with the idea that he will follow in his father’s footsteps. Become a professional and achieve honor. He wants to put Darwin to work and give his life direction. He even makes a purgative to rid him of his hunting addiction.
Darwin finds the lectures boring, except for the chemistry classes. He avoids the cutting room; sick people upset him. He flees the operating room because of the blood and the screaming of the patient (anesthesia did not exist in those days). He also fails to win the trust of patients, something his father is very good at. He does not finish his medical studies.
It is during this period that Darwin realizes that his father is going to leave him a fortune. In addition to being a doctor, his father also invests successfully in all kinds of businesses. He will leave all his children a fortune so Darwin will easily be able to live a comfortable life. It doesn’t motivate him to do his best and complete his studies successfully. During the second year of his studies, he becomes friends with people who have a great love of natural science. He hears of Lamarck and his views on evolution for the first time. Darwin researches marine fauna and discovers that the eggs of moss animals have oscillating hairs with which they can propel themselves. And that the eggs are actually larvae. He lectures about this discovery to the Plinian Society, a club for students interested in natural history, as biology was then called. Among other things, the club organizes lectures, which are then discussed. Darwin attends the Plinian Society regularly, which has a good influence on him. He gets to know like-minded people and it fuels his zeal.
Unlike the Royal Medical Society, of which he is also a member but where the lectures are only medical in nature. Those do not interest him. He spends the summer vacations at Edinburgh University reading, hunting, and hiking.
After two years of study, his father intervenes, disappointed. He recognizes that Darwin does not want to become a doctor and maps out a different route for his son. To prevent him from becoming a good-for-nothing who just wastes his capital, his father suggests he become a clergyman at a parish in a rural area. This suits a wandering, loafing son who likes to be outside in nature. The chance of failure is small. In addition, it honors a family tradition, since several family members have been trained as clergymen. Darwin considers the proposal and eventually agrees to it. Although he does not agree with all the dogmas of the church, he likes the idea of working in the countryside. He puts up with the religious aspect.
To become a clergyman, Darwin must earn a degree at a university. He therefore goes to Cambridge University for three years. To do this, he must first pick up his Greek again. A private tutor is hired because he seems to have forgotten everything he has ever learned. After a few months, he is ready for university.
Except for Professor Henslow’s botanical lectures and a few required classes, Darwin takes no other classes. Henslow takes his students out on field trips to remote places. The things that give Darwin pleasure are friends, lectures, music, hunting, and country drives. He doesn’t come home very often anymore. There Darwin feels stupid, there is tension and arguments, and he is constantly reminded of the duties life imposes on him. Nothing gives him as much pleasure at that time as collecting beetles. Though he may have forgotten everything he learned at school, when writing his autobiography, Darwin still remembers what the poles, trees, and sandhills looked like where he found the beetles.
Darwin builds a friendship with Henslow, who is familiar with every branch of science. He comes to his home and they take long walks almost daily. Two books impress Darwin in his final year at Cambridge: Personal Narrative by Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859, natural scientist and explorer) and Introduction to the study of Natural Philosophy by Sir J. Herschel (1792-1871, scientist and astronomer). They ‘stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science’
Darwin finally manages to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree. But in retrospect, he regards the three years of university study as wasted time in terms of spiritual development, as well as his two years of study in Edinburgh and his time at boarding school. Moreover, he does not eventually become a clergyman in the countryside.
Henslow informs him that Captain Fitz-Roy is looking for a young naturalist to accompany him on a long voyage on the Beagle. Darwin is eager to accept the offer. His father, however, fiercely resists. For him, this is further proof that his unruly son only wants to amuse himself, this time with a pointless and dangerous pastime. He feels it is bad for his reputation and would make him unfit for the clergy. In doing so, he recklessly jeopardizes his career. He demands of Darwin: ‘If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go I will give my consent.’ Darwin writes a letter rejecting the offer and goes hunting to deal with his disappointment. But then he has a conversation with his uncle, a man of common sense and also a successful businessman. His uncle does see merit in the trip, which he says is inexpensive, character-building, unique, and will prepare Darwin to combine natural history and spiritual work. Darwin’s father is persuaded and promises him all his support. Darwin, as is well known, boards the Beagle.
From that moment on, Darwin is a naturalist; he has finally won his love. All he has to do now is pursue his ambition: to be esteemed by his fellow naturalists.
2.2 Driving brain
The part in Socrates’s metaphor of the soul, the essence of man, that guides us to the right destination, is the charioteer. It is the part in us that uses reason to guide the two powers, the natural desire for pleasure and the acquired opinion which aspires after the best.