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the right point at which to give up an inquiry. And I think it was his tendency to pass this point that inclined him to apologise for his perseverance, and gave the air of doggedness to his work.
He often said that no one could be a good observer unless he was an active theoriser. This brings me back to what I said about his instinct for arresting exceptions: it was as though he were charged with theorising power ready to flow into any channel on the slightest disturbance, so that no fact, however small, could avoid releasing a stream of theory, and thus the fact became magnified into importance. In this way it naturally happened that many untenable theories occurred to him; but fortunately his richness of imagination was equalled by his power of judging and condemning the thoughts that occurred to him. He was just to his theories, and did not condemn them unheard ; and so it happened that he was willing to test what would seem to most people not at all worth testing. These rather wild trials he called “fool's experiments," and enjoyed extremely. As an example I may mention that finding the cotyledons of Biophytum to be highly sensitive to vibrations of the table, he fancied that they might perceive the vibrations of sound, and therefore made me play my bassoon close to a plant, *
The love of experiment was very strong in him, and I can remember the way he would say, “I shan't be easy till I have tried it," as if an outside force were driving him. He enjoyed experimenting much more than work which only entailed reasoning, and when he was engaged on one of his books which required argument and the marshalling of facts, he felt experimental work to be a rest or holiday. Thus, while working upon the 'Variations of Animals and Plants,' in 1860-61, he made out the fertilisation of Orchids, and thought himself idle for giving so much time to them. It is interesting to think that so important a piece of research should have been
* This is not so much an example of superabundant theorising from a small cause, but only of his wish to test the most improbable ideas.
undertaken and largely worked out as a pastime in place of more serious work. The letters to Hooker of this period contain expressions such as, “God forgive me for being so idle; I am quite sillily interested in this work.” The intense pleasure he took in understanding the adaptations for fertilisation is strongly shown in these letters. He speaks in one of his letters of his intention of working at Drosera as a rest from the 'Descent of Man.' He has described in his 'Recollections' the strong satisfaction he felt in solving the problem of heterostylism. And I have heard him mention that the Geology of South America gave him almost more pleasure than anything else. It was perhaps this delight in work requiring keen observation that made him value praise given to his observing powers almost more than appreciation of his other qualities.
For books he had no respect, but merely considered them as tools to be worked with. Thus he did not bind them, and even when a paper book fell to pieces from use, as happened to Müller's ‘ Befruchtung,' he preserved it from complete dissolution by putting a metal clip over its back. In the same way he would cut a heavy book in half, to make it more convenient to hold. He used to boast that he made Lyell publish the second edition of one of his books in two volumes instead of in one, by telling him how he had been obliged to cut it in half, Pamphlets were often treated even more severely than books, for he would tear out, for the sake of saving room, all the pages except the one that interested him. The consequence of all this was, that his library was not ornamental, but was striking from being so evidently a working collection of books.
He was methodical in his manner of reading books and pamphlets bearing on his own work. He had one shelf on which were piled up the books he had not yet read, and another to which they were transferred after having been read, and before being catalogued. He would often groan over his unread books, because there were so many which he knew he should never read. Many a book was at once transferred to the other heap, either marked with a cypher at the end, to show that it contained no marked passages, or inscribed, perhaps, “not read,” or “only skimmed." The books accumulated in the “read” heap until the shelves overflowed, and then, with much lamenting, a day was given up to the cataloguing. He disliked this work, and as the necessity of undertaking the work became imperative, would often say, in a voice of despair, “We really must do these books soon."
In each book, as he read it, he marked passages bearing on his work. In reading a book or pamphlet, &c., he made pencil-lines at the side of the page, often adding short remarks, and at the end made a list of the pages marked. When it was to be catalogued and put away, the marked pages were looked at, and so a rough abstract of the book was made. This abstract would perhaps be written under three or four headings on different sheets, the facts being sorted out and added to the previously collected facts in different subjects. He had other sets of abstracts arranged, not according to subject, but according to periodical. When collecting facts on a large scale, in earlier years, he used to read through, and make abstracts, in this way, of whole series of periodicals.
In some of his early letters he speaks of filling several note-books with facts for his book on species; but it was certainly early that he adopted his plan of using portfolios as described in the 'Recollections.'* My father and M. de Candolle were mutually pleased to discover that they had adopted the same plan of classifying facts. De Candolle describes the method in his 'Phytologie,' and in his sketch of my father mentions the satisfaction he felt in seeing it in action at Down.
Besides these portfolios, of which there are some dozens full of notes, there are large bundles of MS. marked “used"
* The racks on which the portfolios were placed are shown in the illustration at the head of the chapter, in the recess at the right-hand side of the fire-place.
and put away. He felt the value of his notes, and had a horror of their destruction by fire. I remember, when some alarm of fire had happened, his begging me to be especially careful, adding very earnestly, that the rest of his life would be miserable if his notes and books were to be destroyed.
He shows the same feeling in writing about the loss of a manuscript, the purport of his words being, “I have a copy, or the loss would have killed me." In writing a book he would spend much time and labour in making a skeleton or plan of the whole, and in enlarging and sub-classing each heading, as described in his ‘Recollections.' I think this careful arrangement of the plan was not at all essential to the building up of his argument, but for its presentment, and for the arrangement of his facts. In his ‘Life of Erasmus Darwin,' as it was first printed in slips, the growth of the book from a skeleton was plainly visible. The arrangement was altered afterwards, because it was too formal and categorical, and seemed to give the character of his grandfather rather by means of a list of qualities than as a complete picture.
It was only within the last few years that he adopted a plan of writing which he was convinced suited him best, and which is described in the 'Recollections;' namely, writing a rough copy straight off without the slightest attention to style. It was characteristic of him that he felt unable to write with sufficient want of care if he used his best paper, and thus it was that he wrote on the backs of old proofs or manuscript, The rough copy was then reconsidered, and a fair copy was made. For this purpose he had foolscap paper ruled at wide intervals, the lines being needed to prevent him writing so closely that correction became difficult. The fair copy was then corrected, and was recopied before being sent to the printers. The copying was done by Mr. E. Norman, who began this work many years ago when village schoolmaster at Down. My father became so used to Mr. Norman's handwriting, that he could not correct manuscript, even when clearly written out by one of his children, until it had been recopied by Mr. Norman. The MS., on returning from Mr. Norman, was once more corrected, and then sent off to the printers. Then came the work of revising and correcting the proofs, which my father found especially wearisome.
It was at this stage that he first seriously considered the style of what he had written. When this was going on he usually started some other piece of work as a relief. The correction of slips consisted in fact of two processes, for the correction were first written in pencil, and then re-considered and written in ink,
When the book was passing through the “ slip" stage he was glad to have corrections and suggestions from others. Thus my mother looked over the proofs of the 'Origin.' In some of the later works my sister, Mrs. Litchfied, did much of the correction. After my sister's marriage perhaps most of the work fell to my share.
My sister, Mrs. Litchfield, writes :
" This work was very interesting in itself, and it was inexpressibly exhilarating to work for him. He was always so ready to be convinced that any suggested alteration was an improvement, and so full of gratitude for the trouble taken. I do not think that he ever used to forget to tell me what improvement he thought that I had made, and he used almost to excuse himself if he did not agree with any correction. I think I felt the singular modesty and graciousness of his nature through thus working for him in a way I never should otherwise have done.
“He did not write with ease, and was apt to invert his sentences both in writing and speaking, putting the qualifying clause before it was clear what it was to qualify. He corrected a great deal, and was eager to express himself as well as he possibly could.”
Perhaps the commonest corrections needed were of obscurities due to the omission of a necessary link in the reasoning, something which he had evidently omitted through familiarity with the subject. Not that there was any fault in the sequence