Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/349

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

stroke. Events had been shaping themselves to this end since the twenty-seventh of December, 1831, when the little brig Beagle sailed from Plymouth harbor, bearing the unknown and youthful Charles Darwin to the discovery of a new world—not, however, an unexplored continent to be claimed for commerce and civilization, but a vastly greater and more valuable realm of thought to be opened to knowledge and conquered for intellectual freedom. Darwin, like the prophets of old, in preparation for his exalted mission, betook himself to the uninhabited wilderness, away from the influence of other minds, in order that he might draw inspiration from untrammeled and clarifying communion with nature. In his narrow cabin on the broad Atlantic, on the desert plains of Patagonia, on desolate and unpeopled islands of the Pacific, in the dark and solemn forests of the tropics, and on the summits of the bleak and barren Andes he gained the coveted prize of wisdom which had been denied him in the populous halls of two great universities where his free spirit had rebelled against the narrow conventionality of classical education.

Although a born investigator he had been driven and harassed for fourteen years by unthinking instructors devoid of both the ability and the disposition to consider his natural endowments and inclinations and who, with one or two exceptions, according to his own later judgment, wasted their time upon an unappreciative and discouraging pupil. He says of himself that he was slow in learning, but a review of his productive life clearly shows that, if he was dull in any respect, it was solely in the matter of accepting ideas at second hand. It happened, merely, that what most of his teachers were prepared to impart he was not constituted to receive; and so one of the acutest observers the world has ever known was thought to be inattentive and unreceptive. During all the school days of his childhood, passed in his native town of Shrewsbury, not only were his superb mental gifts wholly unrecognized, but no attempt was ever made to find out if he had any such gifts. He spent seven useless years at Dr. Butler's so-called "great school," but, apparently, the head master never came to know his talented pupil, for the educational system which prevailed in that institution had no reference to "the discovery of the exceptional man." The one ceaseless effort of his schoolmasters was to crowd him into the common mold.

Receiving no sympathy and little assistance from the teachers of his boyhood, he developed "a strong taste for long solitary walks" and cultivated the habit of stealing time for more or less surreptitious collecting in several departments of natural history. Thus he became, in all important respects, self-taught and, driven to his own resources, his natural inclination to consider his path of life as lying far aside from the common highway was confirmed and strengthened. This sense of solitariness followed him to the end of his life and was, no doubt, an