On today's date, in 1836, a not-entirely callow youth named Charles Robert Darwin wrote a letter to his mentor, the Reverend Professor John Stevens Henslow. At the time, Darwin and the rest of the crew of H.M.S. Beagle were provisioning at St. Helena, well known as the place of Napoleon Bonaparte's final (1815-1821) incarceration.

With apologies to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, it really was (ahem) 'a dark and stormy night' when Darwin was composing the letter, whose main purpose was to entreat Henslow (and, perhaps, his colleague Adam Sedwick) to sponsor him for membership in the Geological Society. But, alone in that fantastic setting, Darwin also felt free to indulge his imagination:

"I am at present living in a small house (amongst the clouds) in the centre of the Isld. & within stone's throw of Napoleon's tomb. It is blowing a gale of wind, with heavy rain, & wretchedly cold: if Napoleon's ghost haunts his dreary place of confinement, this would be a most excellent night for such wandering Spirits . . . . . . ."
At the time, just a few months from his expected return from a five-year voyage around the world, Darwin might well have felt like a wandering spirit himself! And, speaking of spirits, the Friends of Charles Darwin are trying to rouse a spirit of appreciation for all things Darwinian: remember, only 584 days to go until Charles Darwin's 200th birthday (12th February, 2009)!


Peter Mc said...

Morning Scott, great post. I'm from a part of then world where we had different Monkey Trial - Napoleonic wars, a ships was wrecked off the nearby town of Hartlepool, the sole survivor the ship's macot, a monkey in uniform. The locals were suspicious: they questioned it and it didn't speak English so (of course) it was a French spy.

It was tried, found guilty and hanged. They are still pretty sensitive about it, as you can imagine. On a slightly brighter intellectual note, Darwin posted his first editions of The Origin from around here, including two to the USA. We hope to bring you a couple of facsimilies in 2009.

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

Hi, Peter Mc! Welcome! Your anecdote (what a wonderful story)reminds me that for over five hundred years there were 'animal trials' in various parts of Europe.