The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 50 of 188

For the same reason he took much interest in the illustrations of his books, and I think rated rather too highly their value. The illustrations for his earlier books were drawn by professional artists. This was the case in ‘Animals and Plants,’ the ‘Descent of Man,’ and the ‘Expression of the Emotions.’ On the other hand, ‘Climbing Plants,’ ‘Insectivorous Plants,’ the ‘Movements of Plants,’ and ‘Forms of Flowers,’ were, to a large extent, illustrated by some of his children–my brother George having drawn by far the most. It was delightful to draw for him, as he was enthusiastic in his praise of very moderate performances. I remember well his charming manner of receiving the drawings of one of his daughters-in-law, and how he would finish his words of praise by saying, “Tell A–, Michael Angelo is nothing to it.” Though he praised so generously, he always looked closely at the drawing, and easily detected mistakes or carelessness.

He had a horror of being lengthy, and seems to have been really much annoyed and distressed when he found how the ‘Variations of Animals and Plants’ was growing under his hands. I remember his cordially agreeing with ‘Tristram Shandy’s’ words, “Let no man say, ‘Come, I’ll write a duodecimo.'”

His consideration for other authors was as marked a characteristic as his tone towards his reader. He speaks of all other authors as persons deserving of respect. In cases where, as in the case of –‘s experiments on Drosera, he thought lightly of the author, he speaks of him in such a way that no one would suspect it. In other cases he treats the confused writings of ignorant persons as though the fault lay with himself for not appreciating or understanding them. Besides this general tone of respect, he had a pleasant way of expressing his opinion on the value of a quoted work, or his obligation for a piece of private information.

His respectful feeling was not only morally beautiful, but was I think of practical use in making him ready to consider the ideas and observations of all manner of people. He used almost to apologise for this, and would say that he was at first inclined to rate everything too highly.

It was a great merit in his mind that, in spite of having so strong a respectful feeling towards what he read, he had the keenest of instincts as to whether a man was trustworthy or not. He seemed to form a very definite opinion as to the accuracy of the men whose books he read; and made use of this judgment in his choice of facts for use in argument or as illustrations. I gained the impression that he felt this power of judging of a man’s trustworthiness to be of much value.

He had a keen feeling of the sense of honour that ought to reign among authors, and had a horror of any kind of laxness in quoting. He had a contempt for the love of honour and glory, and in his letters often blames himself for the pleasure he took in the success of his books, as though he were departing from his ideal–a love of truth and carelessness about fame. Often, when writing to Sir J. Hooker what he calls a boasting letter, he laughs at himself for his conceit and want of modesty. There is a wonderfully interesting letter which he wrote to my mother bequeathing to her, in case of his death, the care of publishing the manuscript of his first essay on evolution. This letter seems to me full of the intense desire that his theory should succeed as a contribution to knowledge, and apart from any desire for personal fame. He certainly had the healthy desire for success which a man of strong feelings ought to have. But at the time of the publication of the ‘Origin’ it is evident that he was overwhelmingly satisfied with the adherence of such men as Lyell, Hooker, Huxley, and Asa Gray, and did not dream of or desire any such wide and general fame as he attained to.

Connected with his contempt for the undue love of fame, was an equally strong dislike of all questions of priority. The letters to Lyell, at the time of the ‘Origin,’ show the anger he felt with himself for not being able to repress a feeling of disappointment at what he thought was Mr. Wallace’s forestalling of all his years of work. His sense of literary honour comes out strongly in these letters; and his feeling about priority is again shown in the admiration expressed in his ‘Recollections’ of Mr. Wallace’s self-annihilation.

His feeling about reclamations, including answers to attacks and all kinds of discussions, was strong. It is simply expressed in a letter to Falconer (1863?), “If I ever felt angry towards you, for whom I have a sincere friendship, I should begin to suspect that I was a little mad. I was very sorry about your reclamation, as I think it is in every case a mistake and should be left to others. Whether I should so act myself under provocation is a different question.” It was a feeling partly dictated by instinctive delicacy, and partly by a strong sense of the waste of time, energy, and temper thus caused. He said that he owed his determination not to get into discussions (He departed from his rule in his “Note on the Habits of the Pampas Woodpecker, Colaptes campestris,” ‘Proc. Zool. Soc.,’ 1870, page 705: also in a letter published in the ‘Athenaeum’ (1863, page 554), in which case he afterwards regretted that he had not remained silent. His replies to criticisms, in the later editions of the ‘Origin,’ can hardly be classed as infractions of his rule.) to the advice of Lyell,–advice which he transmitted to those among his friends who were given to paper warfare.

If the character of my father’s working life is to be understood, the conditions of ill-health, under which he worked, must be constantly borne in mind. He bore his illness with such uncomplaining patience, that even his children can hardly, I believe, realise the extent of his habitual suffering. In their case the difficulty is heightened by the fact that, from the days of their earliest recollections, they saw him in constant ill-health,–and saw him, in spite of it, full of pleasure in what pleased them. Thus, in later life, their perception of what he endured had to be disentangled from the impression produced in childhood by constant genial kindness under conditions of unrecognised difficulty. No one indeed, except my mother, knows the full amount of suffering he endured, or the full amount of his wonderful patience. For all the latter years of his life she never left him for a night; and her days were so planned that all his resting hours might be shared with her. She shielded him from every avoidable annoyance, and omitted nothing that might save him trouble, or prevent him becoming overtired, or that might alleviate the many discomforts of his ill-health. I hesitate to speak thus freely of a thing so sacred as the life-long devotion which prompted all this constant and tender care. But it is, I repeat, a principal feature of his life, that for nearly forty years he never knew one day of the health of ordinary men, and that thus his life was one long struggle against the weariness and strain of sickness. And this cannot be told without speaking of the one condition which enabled him to bear the strain and fight out the struggle to the end.

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