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C. Darwin to J. S. Henslow.
October 14th, (1837). MY DEAR HENSLOW,
. I am much obliged to you for your message about the Secretaryship. I am exceedingly anxious for you to hear my side of the question, and will you be so kind as afterwards to give me your fair judgment. The subject has haunted me all summer. I am unwilling to undertake the office for the following reasons : First, my entire ignorance of English Geology, a knowledge of which would be almost necessary in order to shorten many of the papers before reading them before the Society, or rather to know what parts to skip. Again, my ignorance of all languages, and not knowing how to pronounce a single word of French-a language so perpetually quoted. It would be disgraceful to the Society to have a Secretary who could not read French. Secondly, the loss of time ; pray consider that I should have to look after the artists, superintend and furnish materials for the Government work, which will come out in parts, and which must appear regularly. All my Geological notes are in a very rough state; none of
my fossil shells worked up; and I have much to read. I have had hopes, by giving up society and not wasting an hour, that I should finish my Geology in a year and a half, by which time the description of the higher animals by others would be completed, and my whole time would then necessarily be required to complete myself the description of the invertebrate ones. If this plan fails, as the Government work must go on, the Geology would necessarily be deferred till probably at least three years from this time. In the present state of the science, a great part of the utility of the little I have done would be lost, and all freshness and pleasure quite taken from me.
I know from experience the time required to make ab. stracts even of my own papers for the 'Proceedings.' If I was Secretary, and had to make double abstracts of each paper, studying them before reading, and attendance would at leasi
cost me three days (and often more) in the fortnight. There are likewise other accidental and contingent losses of time; I know Dr. Royle found the office consumed much of his time. If by merely giving up any amusement, or by working harder than I have done, I could save time, I would undertake the Secretaryship; but I appeal to you whether, with my slow manner of writing, with two works in hand, and with the certainty, if I cannot complete the Geological part within a fixed period, that its publication must be retarded for a very long time, whether any Society whatever has any claim on me for three days' disagreeable work every fortnight. I cannot agree that it is a duty on my part, as a follower of science, as long as I devote myself to the completion of the work I have in hand, to delay that, by undertaking what may be done by any person who happens to have more spare time than I have at present. Moreover, so early in my scientific life, with so very much as I have to learn, the office, though no doubt a great honour, &c., for me, would be the more burdensome. Mr. Whewell (I know very well), judging from himself, will think I exaggerate the time the Secretaryship would require ; but I absolutely know the time which with me the simplest writing consumes. I do not at all like appearing so selfish as to refuse Mr. Whewell, more especially as he has always shown, in the kindest manner, an interest in my affairs. But I cannot look forward with even tolerable comfort to undertaking an office without entering on it heart and soul, and that would be impossible with the Government work and the Geology in hand.
My last objection is, that I doubt how far my health will stand the confinement of what I have to do, without any additional work. I merely repeat, that you may know I am not speaking idly, that when I consulted Dr. Clark in town, he at first urged me to give up entirely all writing and even correcting press for some weeks. Of late anything which flurries me completely knocks me up afterwards, and brings on a violent palpitation of the heart. Now the Secretaryship would be a periodical source of more annoying trouble to me than
all the rest of the fortnight put together. In fact, till I return to town, and see how I get on, if I wished the office ever so much, I could not say I would positively undertake it. I beg of you to excuse this very long prose all about myself, but the point is one of great interest. I can neither bear to think myself very selfish and sulky, nor can I see the possibility of my taking the Secretaryship without making a sacrifice of all my plans and a good deal of comfort.
If you see Whewell, would you tell him the substance of this letter; or, if he will take the trouble, he may read it. My dear Henslow, I appeal to you in loco parentis. Pray tell me what you think? But do not judge me by the activity of mind which you and a few others possess, for in that case the more difficult things in hand the pleasanter the work ; but, though I hope I never shall be idle, such is not the case with me.
Ever, dúar Henslow,
[He ultimately accepted the post, and held it for three years—from February 16, 1838, to February 19, 1841.
After being assured of the Grant for the publication of the 'Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle,' there was much to be done in arranging the scheme of publication, and this occupied him during part of October and November.]
C. Darwin to J. S. Henslow.
[4th November, 1837.] MY DEAR HENSLOW,
.. Pray tell Leonard * that my Government work is going on smoothly, and I hope will be prosperous. He will see in the Prospectus his name attached to the fish ; I set my shoulders to the work with a good heart. I am very much better than I was during the last month before my
* Rev. L. Jenyns.
bury visit. I fear the Geology will take me a great deal of time; I was looking over one set of notes, and the quantity I found I had to read, for that one place was frightful. If I live till I am eighty years old I shall not cease to marvel at finding myself an author; in the summer before I started, if any one had told me that I should have been an angel by this time, I should have thought it an equal impossibility. This marvellous transformation is all owing to you.
I am sorry to find that a good many errata are left in the part of my volume, which is printed. During my absence Mr. Colburn employed some goose to revise, and he has multiplied, instead of diminishing my oversights; but for all that, the smooth paper and clear type has a charming appearance, and I sat the other evening gazing in silent admiration at the first page of my own volume, when I received it from the printers ! Good-bye, my dear Henslow,
[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 ist, 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 Cambridg:: 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* ...; 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 inanuscripts. 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
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, illhealth 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. He wrote in his Pocket Book : “September 6 (1838). Finished the paper
* Samuel Lee, of Queens', was Professor of Arabic from 1819 to 1831, and Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1831 to 1848.
+ Phil. Trans.' 1839. pp. 39–82.