Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/48

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44
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

together, if anything more than superficial interest is to result. Now Darwin's temperament was scientific: "My love of natural science," he writes, "has been steady and ardent." I suggest that the combination in a single individual of the scientific and the poetic temperaments is and must be rare. And I suggest, further, that, where it occurs, the temperament will almost inevitably develop one-sidedly, so that poetry outtops science, or science poetry.

In Goethe's case, poetry was in the ascendent. As I said above, I do not think that Darwin had any large admixture of the poet in his make-up; certainly not so large an admixture of poetry as Goethe had of science. But I believe that he had something of the poet in him; I believe that the atrophy of this something went less far than he himself imagined; and I believe that science is not specially responsible for its partial loss.

Every normal man is a poet for a few years of his life. With most of us, the poetic interest and inspiration die out, as naturally and almost as suddenly as they came, somewhere about the age of twenty-five, and usually sooner rather than later. Darwin was a man of genius, and like many other men of genius he came late to maturity; his plastic period extended, as he himself declares, "up to the age of thirty or beyond it;" and the "Origin of Species" was published in 1859, when he was fifty years old. Perhaps as a result of this prolongation of adolescence, perhaps as a coordinate feature of his extraordinary endowment, Darwin possessed the poetic gift, the gift of creative imagination, in a marked degree. He writes:

I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I can not resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it. . . . On the other hand, I am not very sceptical—a frame of mind which I believe to be injurious to the progress of science.

Here is the poetic temper showing, quite unconsciously to its possessor, through the overlay of scientific training; here we get a glimpse, not of "a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts," but of the credulous and imaginative attitude of the poet.

If I am right in my interpretation, and if Darwin, while never profoundly poetical, still had more than the common share of poetic insight, then we ought to find traces of this character in his books. We must not expect too much, for Darwin pruned his manuscripts to the quick. His son tells us:

He had a horror of being lengthy, and seems to have been really much annoyed and distressed when he found how the "Variation of Animals and Plants" was growing under his hands. I remember his cordially agreeing with Tristram Shandy's words, "Let no man say, Come, I'll write a duodecimo."