Friday, May 29, 2015

What Up, Chuck?

Darwin's Origin Of Species was a thunderbolt, changing the scientific landscape as few other works have.  When published in 1859, he was already a naturalist of some renown, but this made him a name for the ages.  He couldn't be ignored--everyone had an opinion.

Thomas F. Glick, in What About Darwin?, has collected many of  those opinions--philosophers, politicians, clerics, authors and fellow scientists are quoted.  Paging through it recently, here are a few things I discovered.

--Darwin impressed almost everyone who met him as a kind, charming, genial host, not to mention piercingly intelligent.

--both Gilbert and Sullivan had something to say: Gilbert wrote a poem (a lot of poems mention Darwin) stating "...a Man, however well-behaved/ At best is only a monkey shaved" while Sullivan found it unfortunate that Darwin could not find any obvious, direct use in the evolutionary scheme for music.

--John Stuart Mill (whose classic On Liberty was also published in 1859) thought Origin Of Species brilliant.

--Darwin loved Mark Twain's work, often reading him at bedtime.

--Nietzsche, who in general had a low opinion of the British mind, didn't think much of Darwin, partly because Nietzsche saw Darwin arguing for how the fittest survive, when Nietzsche's philosophy regarding humanity had to do with how the weak get the upper hand over the strong.

--C.S. Lewis had strong doubts about Darwin (as you might expect), but refused to write a preface for an anti-Darwin book, explaining that as a Christian apologist he didn't wish to lend his name to a project that could prevent people from taking his own work seriously.

--Anton Chekov was a big fan

--Communists, including Marx, Stalin and Mao, saw a useful analogue in Darwin, since he wrote about the struggle for life and they saw history as a class struggle (just as many capitalists also exploited Darwin, but they're not as strongly featured in the book).

--Schopenhauer, who died in 1860, was perhaps the first major philosopher to find Darwin's ideas depressing on a metaphysical level.

--Theodore Roosevelt was impressed by Darwin's work, though he felt some of his success was attributable to how well he wrote (and he also felt Darwin's earlier success, Voyage of the Beagle, was one of the greatest travel books).

There's plenty more. If you want to understand Darwin, this is not the place to start, but still worth checking out.

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