Posted by: atowhee | November 7, 2017


A review:
The Quotable Darwin.
  Collected and edited by Janet Browne.  Princeton University Press.  2018.  $24.95.  $19.99(PB).   ISBN  9780691169354.      384 pp. 4 ½” x 7 ½”.  darbookCharles Darwin, a careful and deliberate man who’s decades-long study and contemplation of natural science led to one of the sharpest changes in human understanding since the first man began using fire instead of running away.   This book is a moving intellectual portrait of a mind that examined and analyzed before speaking…and long before writing.  What we wouldn’t give for some of that quality in public life today.  Yet, Darwin himself tended to be introverted and stay-at-home so he’s no more fitted for the public realm in the Twitterverse than he was in the day of paper and ink.  Still his thoughts today rise above the mundane, the bumper-sticker, the thoughtless slogan or canard.  Inspiring to know that our species may still be capable, sometimes, of such insight and understanding of a very complex and unforgiving universe.

Some samples:

A quarter-century before the U.S. Civil War, on slavery: “that monstrous stain on our boasted liberty, Colonial Slavery.–I have seen enough of Slavery and the disposition of the negros, to be thoroughly disgusted with the lies & nonsense one hears on the subject in England.”   [1833]

“I have watched how steadily the general feeling, as shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery.–What a proud thing for England, if she be the first European nation which utterly abolishes it.”  [1833. The year England banned slavery over much of its empire]

Galapagos  “The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself.”   [1839]

“I am like Croesus overwhelmed with my riches in facts, & I mean to make my Book as perfect as ever I can.”   [1857]

“I have found my careful work at Pigeons really invaluable, as enlightening me on many points on variation under domestication.”  [1867]

“No educated person, not even the most ignorant, could suppose that I meant to arrogate to myself the origination of the doctrine that species had not been independently created.  The only novelty in my work is the attempt to explain how species become modified…”   [1860]

“Linneaus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though in very different ways, but they were mere school-boys to old Aristotle.”  [1882]

Darwin, a man of his time, and yet so beyond it that he changed intellectual history for as long as our species may last.  Certain religions are still trying to overturn what he wrought.

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