The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 91 of 188


[From the beginning of this year to nearly the end of June, he was busily employed on the zoological and geological results of his voyage. This spell of work was interrupted only by a visit of three days to Cambridge, in May; and even this short holiday was taken in consequence of failing health, as we may assume from the entry in his diary: “May 1st, unwell,” and from a letter to his sister (May 16, 1838), when he wrote:–

“My trip of three days to Cambridge has done me such wonderful good, and filled my limbs with such elasticity, that I must get a little work out of my body before another holiday.” This holiday seems to have been thoroughly enjoyed; he wrote to his sister:–

“Now for Cambridge: I stayed at Henslow’s house and enjoyed my visit extremely. My friends gave me a most cordial welcome. Indeed, I was quite a lion there. Mrs. Henslow unfortunately was obliged to go on Friday for a visit in the country. That evening we had at Henslow’s a brilliant party of all the geniuses in Cambridge, and a most remarkable set of men they most assuredly are. On Saturday I rode over to L. Jenyns’, and spent the morning with him. I found him very cheerful, but bitterly complaining of his solitude. On Saturday evening dined at one of the Colleges, played at bowls on the College Green after dinner, and was deafened with nightingales singing. Sunday, dined in Trinity; capital dinner, and was very glad to sit by Professor Lee (Samuel Lee, of Queens’, was Professor of Arabic from 1819 to 1831, and Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1831 to 1848.)…; I find him a very pleasant chatting man, and in high spirits like a boy, at having lately returned from a living or a curacy, for seven years in Somersetshire, to civilised society and oriental manuscripts. He had exchanged his living to one within fourteen miles of Cambridge, and seemed perfectly happy. In the evening attended Trinity Chapel, and heard ‘The Heavens are telling the Glory of God,’ in magnificent style; the last chorus seemed to shake the very walls of the College. After chapel a large party in Sedgwick’s rooms. So much for my Annals.”

He started, towards the end of June, on his expedition to Glen Roy, of which he writes to Fox: “I have not been very well of late, which has suddenly determined me to leave London earlier than I had anticipated. I go by the steam-packet to Edinburgh,–take a solitary walk on Salisbury Craigs, and call up old thoughts of former times, then go on to Glasgow and the great valley of Inverness, near which I intend stopping a week to geologise the parallel roads of Glen Roy, thence to Shrewsbury, Maer for one day, and London for smoke, ill-health and hard work.”

He spent “eight good days” over the Parallel Roads. His Essay on this subject was written out during the same summer, and published by the Royal Society. (‘Phil. Trans.’ 1839, pages 39-82.) He wrote in his Pocket Book: “September 6 [1838]. Finished the paper on ‘Glen Roy,’ one of the most difficult and instructive tasks I was ever engaged on.” It will be remembered that in his ‘Recollections’ he speaks of this paper as a failure, of which he was ashamed.

At the time at which he wrote, the latest theory of the formation of the Parallel Roads was that of Sir Lauder Dick and Dr. Macculloch, who believed that lakes had anciently existed in Glen Roy, caused by dams of rock or alluvium. In arguing against this theory he conceived that he had disproved the admissibility of any lake theory, but in this point he was mistaken. He wrote (Glen Roy paper, page 49) “the conclusion is inevitable, that no hypothesis founded on the supposed existence of a sheet of water confined by barriers, that is a lake, can be admitted as solving the problematical origin of the parallel roads of Lochaber.”

Mr. Archibald Geikie has been so good as to allow me to quote a passage from a letter addressed to me (November 19, 1884) in compliance with my request for his opinion on the character of my father’s Glen Roy work:–

“Mr. Darwin’s ‘Glen Roy’ paper, I need not say, is marked by all his characteristic acuteness of observation and determination to consider all possible objections. It is a curious example, however, of the danger of reasoning by a method of exclusion in Natural Science. Finding that the waters which formed the terraces in the Glen Roy region could not possibly have been dammed back by barriers of rock or of detritus, he saw no alternative but to regard them as the work of the sea. Had the idea of transient barriers of glacier-ice occurred to him, he would have found the difficulties vanish from the lake-theory which he opposed, and he would not have been unconsciously led to minimise the altogether overwhelming objections to the supposition that the terraces are of marine origin.”

It may be added that the idea of the barriers being formed by glaciers could hardly have occurred to him, considering what was the state of knowledge at the time, and bearing in mind his want of opportunities of observing glacial action on a large scale.

The latter half of July was passed at Shrewsbury and Maer. The only entry of any interest is one of being “very idle” at Shrewsbury, and of opening “a note-book connected with metaphysical inquiries.” In August he records that he read “a good deal of various amusing books, and paid some attention to metaphysical subjects.”

The work done during the remainder of the year comprises the book on coral reefs (begun in October), and some work on the phenomena of elevation in S. America.]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)