Link to PDF of The Darwin Conspiracy: http://inerte.horabsurda.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/The_Darwin_Conspiracy.pdf
We have a lot of discussion of this book here: http://darwiniana.com/index.php?s=darwin+conspiracy
We are reposting the book here by chapter since it has a tendency to disappear from the net..
0. The Darwin Conspriacy: Introduction: http://darwiniana.com/2013/07/30/the-darwin-conspiracy-introduction/
1. The Darwin Conspiracy: CHAPTER 1 Windfall: http://darwiniana.com/2013/07/31/the-darwin-conspiracy-chapter-1-windfall/
This chapter goes over the views of Lyell which were the source of Darwin’s thinking after he returned from his voyages.
2. The Darwin Conspiracy: Chap 3 The man who stretched time http://darwiniana.com/2013/08/01/the-darwin-conspiracy-the-man-who-stretched-time/
The third chapter builds up the background to Darwin’s appropriation of Wallace. The book is showing how far behind Darwin was when he was contacted by Wallace by mail. His views were heavily influenced by Lyell, and were close to a form of creationism. His use of the term ‘natural selection’ is misleading at this early phase: it is nothing like its later meaning.
Formation of a naturalist
BY THE end of 1845, Charles Darwin was famous around the world. Earlier that year he had published, for the second time, the journals that recorded his experiences aboard the British survey brig HMS Beagle. The voyage had ended nearly ten years before, but the earlier publication of his diaries written in 18391 had not been particularly successful: they had been published alongside other accounts of the naval expedition to survey the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines of South America.
The 1845 version was an entirely different commercial proposition.2
For an audience eager for stories about unexplored lands, the book had everything. In more than a thousand pages, Darwin recounted nearly five years of adventure, danger, surprise, fascinating discoveries, strange animals and science. He told stories of the human tragedies of earth- quakes, riding with gauchos, the treatment of slaves, and the strange customs and stranger ways of life he encountered as the Beagle made its halting progress from the tropics to the edge of the Antarctic and back home again. Darwin’s easy writing style allowed readers to view him as someone brave, resourceful and inquiring, and reading the book was commonly held to be an enthralling experience.
In addition to all this, Darwin claimed that the journey had given him insights into one of the greatest scientific questions of the day: how and when do new animal species come into existence? These insights, based on factual evidence and claims of personal observations (particularly with regard to the animals of the Galapagos Islands) made the book more than an adventure story. It presented Charles Darwin as a scientist already actively engaged in the search for the answer to the origin of species.
The book was a phenomenon. It was both a professional triumph and a personal vindication for Darwin. It gave him fame and recognition, and it also conferred an aura of scientific respectability. This was a long way from the dissolute fate his despairing father had once predicted for him.
Born on 12 February 1809, Charles Robert Darwin was the fifth child of Robert and Susannah Darwin. His birthplace was their home, The
Mount, which overlooked the River Severn at Shrewsbury, in the west of England. At the age of eight, he was sent to school in the town. In the same year, his mother died. In later life he recalled that long before she died, he had believed that people admired him for his perseverance and for his boldness; yet, at the same time, he was aware of feelings of vanity and self-contempt.3 These features of Darwin’s character were never to leave him.
As he grew, Darwin developed a passion for collecting anything from plants to coins. He also observed game and other wild birds. This was a great delight to him, and he later said, ‘I was born a naturalist’. However, Darwin was no egghead. He fenced and competed at the high jump and at ‘fives’, a handball version of tennis played without racquets. Lessons bored him but he was fascinated by butterflies and other winged insects, and discovered a deep interest for natural history. He began to study birds and noted their habits and characteristics. At about the same time, he learned to shoot. He later recalled: ‘I do not believe that anyone could have shown more zeal for the most holy cause than I did for shooting birds. This taste long continued and I became a very good shot.’4
His introduction to practical science came from his brother Erasmus, and Darwin developed a lifelong love of reading and a yearning to travel in remote countries. Unfortunately, his studies at Shrewsbury had never impressed anyone and his father, Dr Robert Darwin, decided that some changes were necessary for his son’s own good. Dr Darwin was a formi- dable figure, weighing more than 24 stone (336 pounds), and Charles was in awe of him:
His reverence for him was boundless and most touching. He would have wished to judge everything else in the world dispassionately, but anything his father had said was received with implicit faith.5
Darwin himself talked of his father’s many admirable qualities, including his kindness and generosity. He respected his views on everything and believed he understood him: ‘He was of an extremely sensitive nature, so that whatever annoyed or pained him did so to an extreme degree. He was also somewhat easily roused to anger.’ 6
However, Darwin’s wife Emma gave an entirely different picture of her father-in-law when questioned by her son Francis in later life:
Dr Darwin did not like [Charles] or understand him or sympathise with him as a boy. He was a fidgety man and the noise and untidiness of a boy were unpleasant to him… Everything in the household had to run in the
master’s [way] so that the inmates had not the sense of being free to do just what they liked. They never felt at ease, and used to be extremely glad when the Doctor went off on a long journey, and sorry to see him come back again.7
When Charles’s older brother Erasmus left Cambridge and went to university in Scotland to complete his medical studies in 1825, Dr. Robert decided that Charles should go with him to study medicine. Charles was still only sixteen, but the decision was not questioned.
As an adolescent approaching adulthood, Charles was tall, slender, athletic and popular. His passions at Edinburgh University were not his medical studies but natural history, hunting foxes and shooting birds. Darwin recalled that this was not a direction that pleased his father, who railed at him: ‘You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family’. The outburst caused Darwin deep mortification, but he rationalised it to himself: ‘My father, who was the kindest man I ever knew, and whose memory I love with all my heart, must have been angry and somewhat unjust when he used those words’.8
Towards the end of his life, reflecting on his relationship with his father, Darwin said: ‘I think my father was a little unjust to me when I was young, but afterwards I am thankful to think I became a prime favourite with him.’ However, Francis Darwin remembered his mother saying that the affection felt by his grandfather for his father sprang up only after the latter’s return from the Beagle voyage.9
Darwin’s study of medicine at Edinburgh amounted to just two seven- month academic sessions. He found some of the lectures ‘exceedingly dull’ and revealed his disgust at the idea of practical anatomy. He loved his lectures on chemistry and read avidly around a wide range of subjects, including science, mechanical arts, zoology, the system of classification of the animal kingdom, entomology, insects, shells and James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. The list indicates his declining interest in medicine and an increasing fascination with the natural world.
He learned how to stuff birds and he studied French, but his waning interest in medicine did not go down well at home. His father made his views known in a letter from his sister Susan:
I have a message from Papa to give you, which I’m afraid you won’t like; he thinks your plan of picking and chusing [sic] what lectures you like to attend, not at all a good one; and as you cannot have enough information to know what may be of use to you, it is quite necessary for you to bear
with a good deal of stupid and dry work: but if you do not discontinue your present indulgent [ways], your course of study will be utterly useless. Papa was sorry to hear that you thought of coming home before the course of lectures were finished, but hopes you will not do so.10
In his second year, Darwin decided to divide his study time between medi- cine and natural history, which took in geology. He must have been very disappointed. Looking back, he remembered the lectures as incredibly dull: ‘The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on geology, or in any way to study the science’.11
By the time he left Edinburgh, his interest lay solely in natural history. He was already familiar with the approved methods of collecting and identification and the value of careful observation and interpretation. His personal wish to avoid any connection with geology was not to be fulfilled. Darwin did not complete his course, but Edinburgh taught him a lesson about rivalry and jealousy in the world of science he was never to forget. He was warned off by Robert Grant, a zoology professor he had befriended, for discovering something in an area that Grant considered his own preserve. He was forced to come to terms with the idea of priority, by which an individual scientist is considered to have arrived at a certain idea first. Darwin told his daughter Henrietta about this incident. She later wrote: ‘This made a deep impression on my father and he has always expressed the strongest contempt for all such little feelings – unworthy of searchers after truth’.12
When Darwin left Edinburgh without his degree, he no longer wanted to be a physician. In his autobiography, he remembered that his father had been ‘properly vehement against my turning into an idle, sporting man, which then seemed my probable destination’.13 Eight months later, Darwin went to study at Cambridge. His father’s plan was that he should be ordained in order to pursue a future in the clergy. Darwin went along with the plan and looked forward to three agreeable years.
As might have been anticipated, Cambridge’s effect on Darwin was determined more by the people he met and his driving interest in natural history than by any meaningful religious insights. Full of energy, he again spent much of his time shooting, fox-hunting and collecting beetles, and he soon discovered that a short period of intense study before each exam- ination was all that was needed to achieve success. He left Cambridge in July 1831, fit, slender and just under six feet tall, with the unexpected reputation of being both an excellent shot and a first-class student. He had graduated with enough marks to be placed tenth out of 178 examinees.
His father’s proposal that he enter the Church held little attraction, but in the absence of alternatives he agreed to go back to Cambridge in October, once the summer vacation had ended, to continue his studies with a view to becoming a member of the clergy. And then, with the arrival of one letter from Cambridge, everything in Charles Darwin’s life changed. Before he had even graduated, he had entertained the idea of visiting the Canary Islands off the coast of northwest Africa, and in partic- ular the island of Tenerife. He had dreamed of living in the tropics, observing the scenery and vegetation. He had even studied practical geology in the mountains of Wales in preparation for the geological formations of the Canaries. Then, one day, he learned from his former tutor at Cambridge that a British Navy surveying ship leaving England in the autumn needed the services of a suitable young man interested in science and natural history to be a companion to the captain. The journey would take at least two years. Only a gentleman naturalist suitably recom- mended need apply.
Three months later, HMS Beagle left the Royal Navy base at Devon- port, within the harbour of Plymouth on the southwest coast of England, with Charles Darwin on board. For the next five years, life was one long adventure as the Beagle visited Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, Peru, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and a score of islands along the way. For Darwin, it was an opportunity to indulge his fascination for collecting, hunting and shooting. As the Beagle slowly surveyed the coastline of South America, Darwin collected rare species. He stuffed and prepared animals and birds for dispatch back to England, and recorded his impressions of scenery, people, customs and strange sights. He began the voyage little more than a youth and returned an independent and seasoned traveller.
The experience affirmed his interest in geology, the subject that had bored him so profoundly when he was at Edinburgh. It also led him to Lyell, an important patron and mentor who would prove important to Darwin twenty years later. Finally, it led to his acceptance by some of the most eminent scientists of his day, fascinated by the accounts of his adven- tures and the collections he had sent back to England.
When the Beagle docked at Falmouth nearly five years after she had set sail, Charles Darwin stepped ashore with no doubt about the reception his family were planning for him, because some months before he had received a letter from his sister Susan. The letter referred admiringly to Darwin’s ‘fame and glory’ (the result of his letters being read out at Geological Society meetings), and the changed opinions of him in their household:
Papa and we often cogitate over the fire what you will do when you return as I fear there are but small hopes of you still going into the Church. I think you must turn Professor at Cambridge.14
In fact, Darwin was too busy to think about a career. Given a generous allowance by his father, he found scientists in various fields to write proper scientific descriptions of all the zoological specimens he had dispatched or brought back with him. However, his interests during the voyage had been mineral rather than animal (which must have surprised those who knew how much he had suffered with his geology studies at Edinburgh) and he kept for himself the geological specimens.
All my affairs indeed are most prosperous; I find there are plenty, who will undertake the description of whole tribes of animals, of which I know nothing… I hope to set to work, tooth and nail, at the Geology, which I shall publish by itself.15
By mid-December, Darwin had settled in lodgings in Cambridge. He began work on his geological collections and was writing an account of his Beagle diary for official publication by the government department that administered the Royal Navy. Then, a few months later, an appearance before geologists in London led to a friendship that was to help ensure his place in history.
In February 1837, Sir Charles Lyell, by then the pre-eminent geologist in England and President of the Geological Society, referred in his presi- dential address to the quality of Darwin’s geological ideas in the letters he had sent back from the Beagle voyage. If Darwin was pleased by such praise, his father was ecstatic. His sister Caroline told him, ‘My father is extremely pleased by Mr Lyell’s friendship for you’, adding that Dr Robert was begging for a letter from his son giving as much detail as possible of the relationship between the two men.16
What had so impressed Lyell was Darwin’s descriptions of the physical changes wrought on the coastline of Chile by an earthquake at Concep- ción in January 1835. When Darwin and Robert FitzRoy, the captain of the Beagle, visited the area, they both realised that the effect of the earth- quake had been to elevate an extensive section of the coastline. Lyell was excited because this indicated that he was right in his beliefs that similar seismic action over immense stretches of time would account for changes in the surface of the earth. News of the earthquake had reached England by the summer of 1835, and a few months later Lyell, searching for evidence to support his position, wrote to his main critic: ‘Give me but a
few thousand centuries, and I will get contorted and fractured beds above water in Chili, horizontal ones in Sweden, etc’.17
Within a month of returning, Darwin was invited to dine with Lyell at his house in the fashionable Bloomsbury area of London. A week later, he told a friend that he had seen Lyell several times and that the latter had been extremely friendly and kind. ‘You cannot imagine how good- naturedly he entered into all my plans’, he wrote.18 A few months later, he indicated his own reactions:
I have read some short papers to the Geological Society, and they were favourably received by the great guns, and this gives me much confidence, and I hope not a very great deal of vanity, though I confess I feel too often like a peacock admiring his tail. I never expected that my geology would ever have been worth the consideration of such men, as Lyell, who has been to me, since my return, a most active friend.19
At that point, Darwin could not have realised how important his friend- ship with Sir Charles Lyell would become nor did he realise how important to Lyell’s professional standing was the geological evidence he had brought back from the voyage.
Lyell had initially had a hard time convincing critics of the truth of his Huttonite theory of a world formed over limitless time. He was aware that his ideas were viewed as heretical because they directly contradicted the information presented in the Bible. Lyell’s luck began to change in March
1838 when Darwin presented a paper to the Geological Society (to which he had been elected almost immediately after his return). The paper was entitled ‘Volcanic phenomena in South America’ and argued strongly in support of Lyell’s idea that changes to the surface of the world were the result of gradual changes caused by seismic events.20
Darwin’s eyewitness account of the reshaped Chilean coastline helped to change the scientific perception of Lyell’s work. Lyell noted afterwards:
I was much struck with the different tone in which my gradual causes was treated by all … from that which they experienced four years ago, [when they had been treated] with as much ridicule as was consistent with polite- ness in my presence.21
Darwin won the everlasting gratitude of Lyell, who from that moment took on the role of the young man’s mentor. It was to be more than twenty years before Lyell found an appropriate way to repay him and the subject area would be the much debated species question.
Darwin had already opened his first notebook on the species question in the summer of 1837. In that and succeeding books and manuscripts, he wrote down fragments of his ideas on science, on methodology, and about when it might be proper to generalise or speculate about causes. In 1838, he admitted his fascination with the subject to Lyell:
I have lately been sadly tempted to be idle, that is, as far as pure geology is concerned, by the delightful number of new views, which have been coming in thickly and steadily, on the classification and affinities and instincts of animals – bearing on the question of species. Notebook after notebook has been filled with facts which begin to group themselves clearly under sub-laws.22
Lyell would have been fascinated to know what Darwin was thinking. In fact, Darwin had been influenced by Lyell’s ideas, but unlike Lyell, he had decided to adopt the scientific methodology of Francis Bacon: observe first and only then design a theory to fit the observations. He decided to collect as many facts as he could on the subject of what was then called ‘transmu- tation’ in order to establish one way or the other whether or not species could mutate into other species.23
During the 1840s, Darwin’s own domestic life was slowly evolving. He had married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood in 1839 and immediately set about creating a large family – they were to have ten children, three of whom did not survive childhood. In 1842, he bought Down House, a former farmhouse on the outskirts of London, and began extending it to accommodate his expanding family. Down House proved to be an ideal setting for Darwin to mull over his research and ponder where it might lead him. His characteristically unhurried pace was made possible by the fact he was already financially secure, due to an annual income of several thousand pounds from investments made on behalf of his wife when they married. When Darwin’s father died in 1848, his personal financial well- being was further transformed with an inheritance that generated an additional income of £3,000 a year. Although Darwin’s financial security was guaranteed during this period, his personal life was overshadowed by his own ill-health. Following the Beagle expedition, Darwin had begun to suffer acute bouts of illness and it is possible that he picked up an infection such as Chagas disease, transmitted through the bite of an infected bug, on the expedition itself. Whatever the cause, for months at a time Darwin was unable to work, incapacitated by stomach pains, sickness and heart palpitations.
By 1844, seven years after writing down his first thoughts about trans-
mutation, Darwin had filled many notebooks and manuscripts with his ideas. He had collected every relevant fact he could find and written a
230-page essay entitled ‘Natural Selection’. Within weeks, however, he instructed his wife that it should be published only in the event of his death. We do not know his reasons for this decision: some have argued that he did it out of respect for his wife’s religious feelings, others that he was concerned about the civil unrest that his ideas might provoke.
In 1845, he began writing the new version of his Beagle journal, which was to prove such a success later that year. He then turned away from his Beagle adventures and the mystery of transmutation, and began a scientific study of barnacles that was to last for eight years.
When, in 1854, he eventually looked up from his completed study of barnacles, his mind had once again turned to the problem of how new species arrive in the world. Exactly five years later, he sent On the Origin of Species off for publication, and saw it burst upon an unsuspecting public still in thrall to the Christian faith.