SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
ANNE KENNEY: Thank you all for coming this afternoon. Can you hear me?
ANNE KENNEY: Yep? Nope?
ANNE KENNEY: OK. And happy birthday, Abraham Lincoln-- and Ted Mack, Joe Garagiola, Arlen Specter, Omar Bradley, Max Beckman, Cotton Mather, Henry VII-- I'm stretching-- Louisa Adams, but especially, Charles Darwin.
I'm Anne Kenney, the university librarian, and it's a real pleasure to greet you on the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. This is a special day for many folks around the world and especially here for us in Ithaca. And I'm very pleased that Cornell University Library and the Paleontological Research Institute and its Museum of the Earth have joined forces so successfully to recognize Darwin's lasting legacy.
Each year, PRI and Cornell celebrate Darwin Days. Indeed, the lecture you are about to hear is part of that celebration. But this year we've outdone ourselves in creating a collaborative exhibit at the two venues, both focusing on Darwin's life and work following the publication of On the Origin of Species, which itself is celebrating its sesquicentennial.
The library opens its exhibit this evening with a reception following President Rhodes' talk. The Museum of the Earth's exhibit will have its official opening this Saturday. I had the distinct pleasure of spending time yesterday getting a sneak peek at the library's exhibit with our visiting curator and Darwin scholar, Sheila Ann Dean, and David Corson. The curator of the History of Science collection.
Dr. Dean has written a wonderful book that serves as a companion piece to this exhibit, co-published by the library and PRI. And she will have a book signing at the campus bookstore tomorrow from 3:00 to 4:00.
Much of the scholarship on Darwin focuses on his work prior to the publication of The Origin of Species, and indeed this joint exhibit may be the first one that focuses attention exclusively on his work after that. Darwin was 50 when the book was published, which was many years after his around-the-world voyage on the HMS Beagle, which itself lasted five years from 1832 to 1837. "If it was not for seasickness," Darwin wrote, "the whole world would be sailors."
I suppose we can be grateful that Dramamine wasn't available, or Darwin might never have returned to terra firma to write his magnus opus. But he did. And after it was published, he would live another 22 years, continuing to extend his observations and experiments with plants and domesticated animals, producing five further editions of The Origin, 10 additional scientific monographs, and numerous research papers, all from his home, south of London, at Down House.
This exhibit explores those most creative and productive decades. The exhibit itself is wonderfully presented, drawing on the treasures of PRI and Cornell's Rare and Manuscript Collections, home to one of the premier history of science collections in North America-- containing an extensive collection of Darwin material, including manuscripts in his barely legible hand, rare first editions, photographs, natural history illustrations, and artifacts. It also draws together plant specimens from the university's Bailey Herbarium and zoological specimens from Cornell's Museum of Vertebrates.
There is much to love about this exhibit, including glimpses into a man whose firmly held convictions were often tempered by humor. In his introduction to Descent of Man, he wrote, quote, "It has often and confidently been asserted that man's origin can never be known, but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. It is those who know little, not those who know much, who do so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
I urge you to join us this evening for the opening reception and to experience this incredible assemblage. In closing, I want to thank once again the guest curator Sheila Ann Dean. Our curator of the History of Science, David Corson. Eileen Herron, the assistant rare books curator. Our colleagues at PRI.
And a special thanks goes to Stephan Loewentheil, JD class of '75, who has supported our joint exhibition, lending wonderful pieces from his own collections as well as supporting the publication of Dean's marvelous book and related events. Steven is a true friend of Cornell and its library as well as PRI, and he sends his regrets for not being able to join us today.
The library is honored to partner with such a distinguished institution as PRI, and I would like you to join me in welcoming its director, Dr. Warren Allmon, the Hunter R. Rawlings III professor of paleontology at Cornell, who will introduce this afternoon's speaker.
WARREN ALLMON: Thank you, Anne, very much. This is the fourth annual Ithaca Darwin Days celebration. And as Ann mentioned, the initiator and constant supporter of that has been Stephan Loewentheil, who's a great supporter of both the Cornell Library and of PRI. And I want to reiterate Ann's gratitude to Steven.
I also want to thank just a couple of other people for making this week possible. At a time when, as you can all imagine, even small sums of money are not easily found, several units of the university have generously supported this week's activities-- ecology and evolutionary biology, earth and atmospheric sciences, the public affairs office and Day Hall, and the Cornell lecture series, and I'm grateful to all of them for their support.
This has been a-- even before this crowd, this has been a record week of the four years we've done this. Very successful. But never-- never being absolutely sure that we're going to succeed, I have always asked my staff, what's going to go wrong? I find that that's a good way to ensure that things don't go wrong, but something has gone wrong. And it is entirely my fault, but we have disordered Dr. Rhodes' slides.
And so, because he is who he is, he is going to go ahead and-- personally, I will not notice the difference, but he is justifiably disappointed by this, and I apologize to him for that. It would be, even more so now, incredibly presumptuous of me to believe that I can do justice to what I'm about to do.
I cannot claim to adequately introduce Frank Rhodes, a man who has done so much in so many fields and been introduced by many who are far more able than I. So what I would like to do in a couple of minutes is introduce him as one of our own. I do not mean as a Cornellian, but as a paleontologist, geologist, and scholar of Charles Darwin.
When Frank Rhodes retired as president of Cornell on June 30, 1995, he was the longest serving Ivy League president, having served as the university's ninth president since 1977. As a historical retrospective in the Cornell Sun put it in 2007, quote,
"When Rhodes arrived in Ithaca, he inherited a university that was running deep deficits and struggling for resources. During his long tenure, Rhodes took Cornell from a middle of the road university to the world-class research and teaching institution it is today. During the process, Rhodes became a national leader in higher education, and his work as a visionary included many high profile roles advising two separate US presidents on National Science policy."
But I don't want to talk about any of that. Before Frank came to Cornell, he studied fossils. He received his PhD from the University of Birmingham in England, specializing in what is, at least to non-paleontologists, an extremely obscure group of very tiny fossils called conodonts. These small tooth-shaped objects turned out to be among the most important fossils of any for telling geological time for about 300 million years of Earth history. They turned out to be the teeth of primitive fish-like animals, by the way.
He moved on to faculty positions in geology at the University of Illinois, Swansea University in the UK, and finally the University of Michigan, where he was also dean in the college of literature, science, and the arts and vice president of academic affairs.
In addition to numerous influential technical publications on conodontoloy. Frank published two books on paleontology for the general reader, one of which, commonly known as the Golden Guide to Fossils, which I'm sure many of you have, is probably, although he claims he can't prove this one way or the other, is probably the most widely available book on paleontology ever published in the world.
By his own admission, however, fossils and geology were never Frank's only interest, and he quickly began to write and speak more widely on the history, philosophy, and human implications of the earth sciences. In 1981, he co-edited a book called Language of the Earth, a double entendre that well summarizes his view of the place of geology in human thought and human life.
The book, he said, quote, "aimed to provide a context for that particular category of knowledge which we identify as Earth science to show not only its range and scope but also its flavor, style, and implications-- to show all knowledge as provisional rather than infallible, as refinable rather than complete and finished."
The second edition of this book just appeared in 2008. In the preface to that edition, Frank and his co-anthologizers said that they hope to transcend even their former ambitious goal and to show not only the intimacy of science with other expression and study, but also to give a sense of the individuality, insight, and intuition that underlie all encounters with our parent planet-- a phrase that he uses frequently-- and all descriptions of it, and to provide a window on the world of people who do geology-- not just geologists, but sculptors and soldiers, artists and aviators, politicians and poets, prophets and prospectors, novelists and naturalists.
While still an active paleontologist, Frank started to do scholarly research on Charles Darwin. And after his arrival at Cornell, this became his principal academic pursuit. It is important to note, however, that this was not mere historical dabbling by a retired paleontologist. In 1983, Frank Rhodes published in the journal Nature a major attempt to assess the relationship of Darwin's thinking to the still-- to the then still revolutionary and novel theory of punctuated equilibrium.
In a rare concession, to a critic one of that theories founder's Stephen Jay Gould later acknowledged that Frank's article identified what Gould admitted were many genuine Darwinian resonances in that theory that Gould himself had either missed or ignored. To this day, Frank's papers-- Frank's paper in Nature remains an essential touchstone of the history of this still very much discussed theory.
It is with great joy and, again, with my apology, that on Charles Darwin's 200th birthday I can introduce you Dr. Frank Rhodes.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you, Warren.
Mr. Chairman. Librarian Anne Kenney. Sheila Ann Dean, whom I haven't seen for a while, but who is a co-conspirator with me in the Darwin project. Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here. I am sad, however, that I am not here with my slides, for I had planned an illustrated lecture.
And the slides were dropped 15 minutes before the lecture was to begin, and since there was a large number of slides involved, I am unable to be able to rearrange them in time to use them. So you will forgive me for what is inevitably going to be a disjointed approach. And I'm going to talk without slides, but try and use these overheads, if we can have the first one, as an outline that will introduce him. Rachel, if you would be kind enough to do that.
Charles Darwin was born on this day. And this month, 1809, was an eventful month both in the then young United States and also in Europe. In the US, the Illinois Territory was established. Robert Fulton patented the steamboat, which he'd invented earlier. Thomas Jefferson served his last full month in office and left the White House for Virginia, never to return to the capital again.
The-- I wonder if we could have a little light in the front here as well as using the screen. A little light? Good. That's wonderful. That's wonderful.
And on February the 12th, in a one-room log cabin, which was then in Hendon County, Kentucky, a county that's since been adjusted, a 25-year-old mother, Nancy Hanks, the wife of a dirt-poor farmer, Thomas Lincoln, gave birth to a son, as you heard from Anne, and named him Abraham.
Europe also faced a turbulent February in that particular year. The Peninsular Wars were at their height, and French troops defeated the Spanish Army after a lengthy siege of 40 days. The troops under Wellington, who were later to defend Portugal in the long Peninsular War, were rallied by Wellington as he landed.
And Felix Mendelssohn was born in that particular month. And in a large country house in a place called Shrewsbury, England, a 44-year-old mother gave birth to a son-- she was the wife of a prosperous physician-- and called him Charles.
The striking thing is that the two men have such similar records in terms of their place in history. Both of them changed history. Both of them were reviled in their time as well as idolized by those who supported them.
Both of them rejected the careers in which their fathers had supported the family-- Lincoln hated farming. Darwin couldn't stand the sight of blood. And in one sense, they're polar opposites. But in many ways, these two gentle revolutionaries literally shaped the kind of world in which we live.
Let me say a little about the Darwin family. The Darwin family was a prosperous one in the English Midlands. Erasmus Darwin, who was the grandfather of Charles, was a country doctor based in Litchfield. He was also something of a polymath. He translated the works of Carl von Linnaeus, for example, from Latin into English. No small thing-- it was a two volume work. Systema Naturae.
He was a botanist of some distinction and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He was a poet and published a lengthy poem on the love of plants, with suggestions about the way they reproduce in a rather poetic way. And he was also a natural philosopher who published a lengthy volume called Zoonomia, in which he had this striking phrase. "Would it be too bold to suppose that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament?" A striking statement.
He was a member of a very influential group of other natural philosophers called the Lunar Society. He was one of the founders and coordinators. And this Lunar Society, which included people like Wedgwood, Josiah Wedgwood, the potter whose pottery is still well known and collected. Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen. Ben Franklin was a member while he was based in London and was a friend of Darwin's father. James Watt, who invented the steam engine, was a member.
There were about a dozen in all. And this society met monthly at the time of the full moon to allow them to ride safely in their carriages away from the hazards of traveling on the highway, such as they were, into Birmingham to meet. And this influential group, the Lunar Society, debated such questions as those that Erasmus Darwin, Darwin's grandfather, had raised. Is it too bold to believe, for example. That was the kind of level of inquiry and philosophizing.
Darwin's father, Robert Waring Darwin, was also a physician. He trained at Leiden, the University of Leiden, and at Edinburgh. It was fashionable to take the first part of your degree in one place, and then to go to Edinburgh for the final medical training-- at least fashionable in Britain at that time.
He was a large man. He was 6 feet 2 inches tall. The last time he was weighed, Charles Darwin recorded he weighed 336 pounds, but he grew much heavier after that. In fact he became so rotund, that he had to give up the practice of medicine in later life. He was a caring father, but a dominating father. And he married Susannah Wedgwood, Darwin's mother, who was a member of the Josiah Wedgwood family-- the Staffordshire pottery owners. And that began a very long intermarriage and interrelationship between the two families.
Susannah Wedgwood Darwin was an invalid mother for most of Darwin's life. The only thing Darwin remembered off her is her appearance on her deathbed dressed in black-- the detailed appearance of her death. But she died when Darwin was eight years old, and that not only shocked the young Darwin, but it cast a pall upon the whole Darwin household.
Darwin Senior, Darwin's father, Robert Darwin, became perpetually depressed, literally depressed. There was a cloud over the whole household. He did not remarry. The two oldest sisters, Marianne and Caroline, ran the house, though they were scarcely old enough to take on such duties. And they took on the task of educating the younger children.
Charles Darwin recalls his sister Caroline with mixed affections. She was a somewhat stern taskmaster, he commented once. And she taught him strenuously and furiously. "I was regarded," he said, and I quote, "in many ways as a naughty boy."
The family lived in a large house and lived well. Darwin was a very successful physician. He was a relatively wealthy man. He invested in property. He invested in canals. He invested in the newly developing railroads, and increased his wealth as a result of that.
And the mount at which they lived-- a house, a Georgian house, a brick Georgian house that he built in 1800-- is a large house with five large bays in a beautiful location, overlooking the River Severn. You can still visit it. It's open to the public with a historic plaque upon it. It's now used by the post office, which is something of a downturn after its earlier history. But it is well preserved.
Life at the mount was perpetually gloomy, and that's the way in which Darwin and his sisters remembered it. After the death of his mother, life descended into a weary kind of routine. It was brightened by the fact that 30 miles away from the place where they lived was the Wedgwood family, Darwin's mother's parents.
And they were an entirely different family. They lived in Staffordshire near the pottery that they owned in a place called Mayor Hall. And Darwin used to refer to it in later life as Bliss Hall because to move from his home at the mount to the Wedgwood home was, in fact, to enter bliss, and that was something of a consolation.
Next slide, please, Rachel. Because he was an orphan at eight and had until the death of his mother never attended school, the question came up in the family as to what should happen next. And he was sent to the school of a Unitarian minister in the town of Shrewsbury, the Reverend George Case. And he attended there for one year only. He did not like it.
The school was attached to a church that the Reverend Case ministered to. His mother, Charles Darwin's mother, and sisters had earlier attended that church. But the school was not a success for Darwin. And in many ways, as I mentioned, he recorded himself as a naughty boy. And so his father decided to send him to Shrewsbury School in 1818.
He was a boarder there, even though the school was only a mile away from the home in which he lived. And so he lived in the school during the week and came home at weekends. He had a low opinion of the school. The school as a means of education, to me, was simply a blank. Nothing could have been worse. He was-- nothing was taught there except classics and a little ancient history and geography, he recorded.
But the one redeeming feature was that in his earlier years there, his older brother Erasmus-- Ras, as he became known-- was also there. And they were joint boarders who would plan and do things together and work together at weekends. Ras was a remarkable character. He lived to a ripe old age of 80-something. He was a lifelong bachelor. But he was also a polymath interested in everything.
And he arranged to set up a chemical lab in the tool shed on the Darwin property. And the two boys, with financial support from their father, equipped it with a wide range of materials. This was the best part of my education at school, commented Darwin later on. But I was once publicly rebuked by the headmaster for wasting my time on such things.
Darwin was ignited by this experience of chemistry. And he also became an enthusiastic, in fact, an avid collector of various objects-- beetles to some extent, but also such things as coins, as fossils, as seals that were put on letters. He was a knowledgeable collector, and there are still labels from some of the early materials that he collected. The third one, please, Rachel.
He'd stay there at Shrewsbury until he was age 16. And he writes very candidly in his autobiography, as I was doing no good at school, my father wisely took me away at an earlier age than usual to begin my medical studies at Edinburgh. My brother, Ras, was completing his there-- Ras had gone on to Cambridge-- and I was sent to begin mine.
Then at Edinburgh, he began to study medicine. He attended two operations, and the sight of blood appalled him. Both were delivered without anesthetic. He also condemned the few lectures that he attended in his first year. But in his second year, Ras left to go to London to complete his medical training, and Charles was on his own. And at that point, though Ras and Charles had lived together during the first year, had lodged together, Charles branched out and began to explore what Edinburgh had to offer, which at that time was probably the finest scientific education in the country.
He attended two sets of lectures and judged them harshly. The first was by Robert Jameson, who was professor of mineralogy and zoology at Edinburgh. Jameson subscribed to a school of thought known as the Neptunist and Catastrophist School. He would take out his students on field excursions, and point to the wonderful volcanic rocks in the Edinburgh area, point to the volcanic sills and dikes, and sneer at those who suggested that they had been injected as molten igneous material from below. They were deposited, according to him, from above as sediments from an encompassing sea-- a Neptunian view.
He was also a Catastrophist, and he explained the succession of fossils in stratified rocks by supposing that each new appearance, each new development, represented a mass extinction of the earlier forms of life, in which all creation had become extinct. And the most recent of those episodes of destruction-- catastrophes-- was the flood of Noah. There were 32 or 37 such episodes recognized by these Catastrophists.
I attended Jameson's lectures on geology, Darwin recorded, and the sole impression they made upon me was never to open a book on the subject again. Take note those who teach.
The second person with whom he formed a close friendship was Robert Grant. Grant was six years older than Darwin, and he was professor of natural history-- rather, not professor, a lecturer in natural history. And Darwin attended his course. One of the important things for Darwin was shoreline expeditions in which they would collect invertebrates from tidal pools.
They would identify them. They would dissect them. And this, for Darwin, was a time of growing discovery. In fact, he made some discoveries of his own, which Grant was unkind enough to incorporate in a paper without adequate attribution, Darwin believed. And that served as something of a separation between them.
Grant went on to become the first zoology professor at University College London, but Darwin respected the impact that he'd had in those earlier years. He tells us in his autobiography, soon after I arrived at Edinburgh, I learned that my father would leave me property enough to subsist on with some comfort, and this knowledge was sufficient to check any strenuous desire to learn medicine.
And he goes on-- now, it's his father who decided that he was to become a physician-- and he goes on, my father perceived that I did not like to become a physician, and so he decided that I should go to Cambridge and become a clergyman. Darwin had his own doubts as to whether that was the right way to go.
But he went, and he thought very carefully and long about it. He had doubts, because although he was a Christian, and a sincere one, he had not thought deeply about the subject. And everyone who entered Cambridge and graduated from it had to subscribe to 39 very detailed articles of faith in the Church of England.
Darwin studied intently and signed on, and was admitted to Christ's College Cambridge as a pre-ordinant. You can still see his set of rooms in Cambridge, and if you're kind to the porter, can visit them. My time at Cambridge, he later wrote, was wasted as completely as it had been at Edinburgh and at school.
And he joined the sporting set-- a group of people who literally spent their time hunting and shooting and in high living. He belonged to a group called the Glutton Club, which experimented by eating as many different kinds of animals as they could for the weekly feasts that they encountered.
But his time wasn't entirely wasted at Cambridge, because there grew up a friendship with two people who were to have a significant effect upon his life. One of these was JS Henslow, who was the professor of botany and had earlier been professor of mineralogy. Henslow, more than any other, Darwin later wrote, influenced the future course of my life.
He was invited by Henslow to attend Friday evening soirees at the Henslow home, at which senior members of the university, a handful of students, and visiting speakers would present their views on a variety of topics. And through that, Darwin became deeply immersed in the broad questions of natural history.
He met some of the leading figures of his time, but more than that, he became almost a slave-like assistant to Henslow. He became his formal assistant in botany and organized the lab work and the fieldwork. He accompanied Henslow on botanical excursions. He dined frequently outside the Friday meetings. And he became known in Cambridge as the man who walks with Henslow. Henslow had a profound experience upon Darwin's life. And Henslow's great skill as a botanist was minute observation-- minute observation-- and recording and correlation of the observations.
It was Henslow who arranged for Darwin in his final two terms that he had to complete in order to obtain his degree to approach Adam Sedgwick, who was the Woodwardian professor of geology. And it was with Sedgwick that Darwin was introduced again to the despised subject of geology. He accompanied Sedgwick on a one-week-long field trip to North Wales and worked in geologic mapping with him, and literally rekindled, as a result of that experience, the enthusiasm he'd had earlier on for geology.
He graduated from Cambridge, not amongst the honors men, but amongst the pass students-- those men who did not go in for honors. And he graduated 10th out of 176 people, so Cambridge bestowed its judgment on one of the greatest intellects of all time. But in fact, in spite of Darwin's critical comments, 1831 was a critical year in his own development, not only because of Henslow and Sedgwick, but also because of four authors that he met during that year-- three of them while he was still at Cambridge, and one of them soon after he left.
Alexander van Humboldt was an explorer who had written a narrative of his exploration to South America and to Tenerife on the way there. And Darwin, reading this account, was charmed by it. He became in his dreams literally an explorer himself-- and so did Henslow, and they planned a joint expedition to Tenerife.
Second, John Herschel, who was in Cambridge on and off, wrote a handbook of natural philosophy. And Darwin became entranced by the emphasis on method that Herschel represented. Herschel set-- the son of an astronomer-- set for himself the task of mapping the whole geography of the heavens. He was a remarkable man.
The third man was Charles Lyell, and I'll mention him in a moment. But William Paley was the fourth one. The instruction at Cambridge at the time consisted of three basic requirements. One, a lot of Euclid. Two, a lot of classical work. And, three, a lot of Paley. The only instruction in science at Cambridge at the time of Darwin was by Sedgwick and Henslow.
Now, Paley had written three books, and two of those became required reading. The study of Paley's work constituted 30% of the final examinations for the degree from Cambridge. And he wrote books on natural theology. And in those books, he argued that the existence of purposeful organisms implies contrivance. Contrivance. And Darwin said, I was never more charmed by any author than I was by Paley.
Paley argued that contrivance was a divine watchmaker. Darwin carried that over so that contrivance became natural selection and variation. But he tells us in his autobiography, I could have said the whole of Paley by heart-- and I think he could. He had a remarkable memory when he chose to use it.
The fourth influence on Darwin was Charles Lyell. And Lyell was recommended to him by Henslow, who said he should read the book but by no means believe the views therein contained. Next slide, please, Rachel.
It was through Henslow that Darwin received an offer to join HMS Beagle, a 240-ton 10-gun brig, which was shortly to leave on a survey voyage to South America, and from there, around the world. The voyage was supposed to last for two years. Henslow himself was invited. Mrs. Henslow turned it down. He invited another friend. And the office that he offered, the position that he offered, was one to serve as scientist, natural historian, and companion to the captain.
The captain, Captain Robert FitzRoy, was looking for someone who would be a gentlemanly companion for him and accompany him on the voyage, but somebody with a hand for science. Darwin fitted the bill, and FitzRoy was a lonely man. FitzRoy was a Naval officer six years older than Darwin, and he'd been on a previous voyage of the Beagle doing hydrographic surveys around the coast of South America.
On that voyage, the captain of the Beagle had shot himself-- had committed suicide, and FitzRoy had been appointed captain in his place. But he, in fact, inherited some of the same dark qualities that his former captain had. He was an autocratic man. He was a moody man. He was sometimes a very desperate man. But he was a good Naval officer. He ran a tight ship, and he was a good hydrographer.
Darwin's father opposed his going, but his uncle, Uncle Joss, took the 10 objections his father had, sent 10 comments on the objections by letter, and then took Darwin, who had arrived to go partridge shooting, and drove the 30 miles to Shrewsbury to convince Robert Darwin that he should allow his son to go-- and this he did.
The voyage, which was to last for two years, turned out to last virtually five years. They left in December. They returned in October. And for Darwin, it was a time of revolution-- of revolution in his thinking. He left as a barely trained student. He came back as a seasoned naturalist. The scientific results of the survey took years to integrate and bring together, but nagging questions persisted.
Darwin was a seasick naturalist, as Anne commented. But in fact, on the five-year voyage, only 18 months were spent by Darwin at sea. The rest of the time he spent on the land. And of that time on the land, two places were critical. He spent a long time, almost two years, on land in South America, and a short time, less than two months, in the Galapagos Islands.
Three nagging questions haunted Darwin as he came back from the Beagle voyage. He devoted himself fully to geology, but he was also concerned about the geological relationship to some of the biological facts that he discovered. The three questions were these.
First of all, how is it that vertebrate fossils he discovered in the coast in South America look so like living forms though they're larger? Giant armadillos in comparison with the small ones. Large camel-like creatures. Large ground sloths, 12 feet high, as opposed to the living ones. And how are these extinct ones interweaved in the sediments with the shells of organisms, invertebrates, still living? Puzzle number one-- extinct animals and their relationship to animals still living on the Pampas.
Puzzle number two from South America. How is it that an ostrich-like creature called the rhea, that he had eaten for Christmas dinner along with the rest of the crew, how is it when he studied the remains and identified this as a new species, is adjacent to but distinct from a larger species, but they don't interbreed? They do not overlap. They occupy separate geographic areas. How is it you get succession in time between species? How is it you get separation and space between species of rhea?
And the third question that nagged at him resulted from his visit to the Galapagos Islands. He became deeply impressed by the inter-island differences between the tortoises and the birds, especially the finches. And he noted that each island had its own distinctive form of finch with a distinctive beak. He didn't notice it at the time-- he didn't even keep his collections straight in terms of where the birds came from-- but it was John Gould the naturalist who worked up the collections who pointed it out to him a year or two later.
He was told by the governor of the islands about the differences between the tortoise-- that every island had its own distinctive tortoise. How is it, he mused, that each island seems to have its own population and yet these bear a startling resemblance to one another? It is as though, he later mused in a journal, it is as though one species had been created and modified for different ends.
And so he came back from the Beagle, and the next slide talks a little bit about his coming home. He came home not as he had went. He went as a raw and immature recent graduate. He came back a seasoned naturalist and already a celebrated geologist. He got home in December, and he found that while he was away, Henslow had arranged for his letters to Henslow, his scientific diaries, to be read at the Cambridge Philosophical Society and published by them. He was already a published author without his having known it.
He'd sent his specimens back to Henslow for Henslow to curate. And Henslow had opened them up. And these extinct fossils, unknown until then, had caused a sensation when they were displayed. They had been shown to others who'd marveled at them. And so his name was in one sense in the air by the time he came.
Within three months of coming home, he had read his first paper to the Geological Society of London on the elevation of certain parts of the coast of Chile. And within a year of his coming home, he'd been elected secretary of the Geological Society. In most of this, Charles Lyell, Adam Sedgwick, and John Stevens Henslow had played a hand. And the London years-- he lived in London from 1837 to 1842-- were critical years for Darwin.
In those years, he developed musings that became the basis for all his later theories, and developed a series of notebooks within those years where he dealt with some of the topics. Note there were five-- Notebook A, in red, surveyor-style notebooks, was geology. B was miscellaneous items. M was metaphysical questions. He did an enormous amount of reading on metaphysical and religious questions. And the two intervening ones were on something he came to call transmutation. Transmutation. Next, slide please.
He was a bachelor at this time. And that was an agreeable life, but it was not one that he wished to continue. And he was an analytical bachelor. He has left behind a wonderful sheet of paper from which I'll read just a couple of words to you. He created a kind of balance sheet on the question of marriage. On the left-hand side, he put marry. On the right-hand side, he put not marry. Let me read you some of his comments.
"Marry-- female chitchat. Not marry-- anxiety and responsibility." The reasons for not marrying. Reasons for marrying-- take care of house. Reasons for not marrying-- never go to America. Marry-- children, perhaps. For not marrying-- never go up in a balloon. Terrible loss of time. And at the end of this lengthy document-- and it is very lengthy-- this is how he concluded. "Cannot live the solitary life. Trust to chance. There is many a happy slave. Marry, marry, marry, QED."
The problem then was to find a wife. Before he left on the Darwin, he had had a close friendship, perhaps an understanding of sorts, with someone called Fanny Owen, an acquaintance from Shropshire. She married within a year or so of his leaving, and so he was literally unattached by the time he came home. But the Wedgwood connection was a very strong one between Darwin and the Wedgwood-- the Darwin and the Wedgwood families. And in the end, he proposed in the late fall of 1838 to Emma Wedgwood.
There are accounts of their proposal, and it was a messy business altogether, but they were married on January 21, 1839 and set up house in London. He was a dutiful husband and a caring father. Emma had expected a life in society. She was a talented woman, a marvelous woman-- an accomplished pianist. She had been a pupil of Frederic Chopin. She was very well-read. She went to every play and every concert that she should. Darwin was just the reverse. Music came to bore him later on. And he did not like going out into society, as he called it.
The family was a close-knit one. 10 children came along, and three of them died in infancy. And the death of one of those, Annie at the age of 10, cast a long shadow upon Charles Darwin. It's something from which, perhaps, in many ways, he never recovered. The next slide, please.
They began a search for a house, and they settled in Down House in 1842. And Darwin lived there for the rest of his life, another 40 years. They were a prosperous family. Both Darwin and Emma inherited money from their parents-- a substantial sum. Darwin, 500 pounds a year, Emma, 400 pounds a year-- until their parents died, and then the wills of both parents left them substantial sums. So they were a wealthy family. They were never short of money. And they made many changes and adjustments and editions to Down House.
Down House is open to the public, and is a treasure. It is worth a visit. Darwin was plagued, however, by ill health. We could spend a long time discussing the various diagnoses that had been given, but he was perpetually ill. He was a professional invalid, and he was sheltered from going out in society by his family. This isolated him, even from the scientific world around him. But he had three particularly close friends-- Henslow, whom I mentioned, Lyell-- Charles Lyell of The Principles.
Lyell was a Scottish barrister from a wealthy family, who practiced law for two years and then became a scientific gentleman-- an amateur scientist-- and had a huge influence through his writing. And a new friend whom he had not met until he came back from the voyage, Joseph Hooker, who was the director of the Botanic Gardens at Kew. He became Darwin's closest friend and confidant. And those three were the only three who penetrated the inner circle of those Darwin years.
He devoted his time to minute work, to Darwin's barnacles, where he spent 13 years on taxonomic detail studies, to pigeon breeding, and to the species question. The species question had come up in a novel way. He tells us in his diary that he'd been musing on the species question for many years. And in 1838, while still living in London, before he came to Down, I happen to read for amusement Malthus On Population.
And being well prepared by long study of the animal and plant world to appreciate the situation, it at once struck me that those favorable variations would be inherited and those unfavorable variations would not. I can remember the very spot on the road whilst in my carriage when to my joy the solution to the problem came to me.
Here we had at last, he later said, here we had a theory by which to work. And so Darwin's nagging questions about the succession of fossils, about the relationship to living forms, about distinct geographic isolation-- Darwin's nagging questions from the Beagle found the beginning of an answer.
Change takes place-- what he called transmutation between species-- takes place by differential survival-- the survival of those best fitted to the particular environment in which they live and the resulting fact that they produce more offspring and hand on their favorable characteristics to their descendants. This was the key, and thus became Darwin's brooding secrets.
The notebooks expanded, the correspondence grew, but Darwin hesitated to publish this grand discovery. He took the liberty of making a brief abstract, as he called it, of 30-something pages in June of 1842. And he produced a second draft of that, an expanded one, two years later. But it became Darwin's brooding secret.
He was worried about two things. One, he was worried about premature publication-- that he may not have the facts to document this wild-eyed, as he thought it, theory. And second, he was worried about the religious implications of this particular view, especially for his wife who was a very devout Christian. And so he held back. The big book on which he spent so many years continued to accumulate information.
And then in the spring of 1858, he received a bombshell in the mail. He received a letter from a man called Alfred Russel Wallace, who was a professional naturalist, as deprived in his own background as Darwin had been prosperous and well provided for in his. The letter from Wallace came from Ternate in the Maluku Islands, where Wallace was collecting. And in it, he proposed a theory of natural selection so similar to Darwin's that even his terms, wrote Darwin, now stand as heads of my chapters. If he had read my manuscript in full, he could not have made a better abstract.
Darwin despaired, but Lyell and Hooker, to whom he turned for advice, his work of two decades having disappeared underneath him, arranged for both of them to present a joint paper on July 1, 1858 to the Linnean Society of London. It was called "On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection." Few of those who heard it could have realized what a profound effect this was to produce. There was virtually no discussion, and the meeting closed.
This panicked Darwin into publication. And a year later, on November the 24th, 1859, he published The Origin of Species. It was nothing like the book that he had been writing for two decades. It was an abstract, as he called it-- much shorter, without references, without the prolonged discussion and debate. But it formed the core of his later writing.
The argument and the evidence are now well-known. All things, Darwin argued-- there were just three points-- all things in nature vary. Two, all things in nature, all organisms in nature, overproduce. A salmon, a single salmon, produces 28 million eggs per season. Even mankind, slow-breeding mankind, said Darwin, has doubled his numbers within 25 years. And at this rate, within 1,000 years, there will not be standing room for his progeny.
Variation, overproduction, and the third one-- therefore, there must in a sense be a competition for survival. Those better fitted to the environment in which they live will survive and reproduce and hand on their characteristics to their descendents. That was the argument of The Origin.
What is now well-known is the growing impact of that work. Darwin himself was reticent, and his views-- though the book produced a clamor both for and against it-- Darwin shielded his own views from the public. If you ask me what was Darwin's true conviction, I describe him as an agnostic theist, or a theistic agnostic. He never made it clear. My position is simply muddled, he later wrote.
But in fact, the debate swirled around him. As for the book, some treasured it, and some burnt it, literally. And some, it is said, like the master of Trinity College Cambridge, merely hid it. But the book had a profound effect. And everyone, not just the professional science world, but everyone took it upon themselves to comment on its proposal. The next slide, please.
The later years were spent quietly. He continued his scientific work. He published at a prodigious rate. During his lifetime, Darwin wrote 17 different works in 21 volumes-- a total of 9,000 pages. If you add to that the number of pages from articles as well as books, the total comes to 10,000 pages produced over a period of 43 years. That rate of production, which, if my arithmetic is right, is 230 pages every year for 42 years is something to ponder, even at this distant date.
His family grew up. The honors multiplied. I count over 50 learned societies of which he was an honorary member or a foreign correspondent. Honorary degrees came along. He declined one from Oxford because of ill health. But he was celebrated very widely. More than two dozen species were named in his honor while he was still alive. Everyone celebrated this great man. Growing recognition.
He died in April, April 18, 1882, after a couple of months of angina, as it was described. And although he had planned to be buried in Down, Down churchyard, his friends Hooker and Lyell and Huxley arranged for him to be buried in Westminster Abbey. And there he lies next to his friend John Herschel and within a few feet of Isaac Newton-- a proper fitting.
His influence continues to expand, but there is both amongst those who oppose him and amongst his supporters a kind of dogmatism that I think creeps in too much of the debate. We need to temper that discussion, because it is important on both sides of the debate to avoid the kind of dogmatism that is going.
10 years after The Origin of Species was published, Darwin wrote a letter to his friend Joseph Hooker. And he wrote as follows. "If I lived 20 more years and was able to work, how I should have to modify The Origin, and how much the views on small points will have to be modified. Well, it is a beginning, and that is something." And what a beginning it was.
A writer in The New York Times on Tuesday of this week wrote an article-- a professional scientist-- "Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution Can Live," and went on in one line of that article to say, "let us now kill Darwin." It is an astonishing article from a professional scientist. He argues that Darwin knew very little of what we now know about the mechanism of evolution, about the structure of DNA, and all the other complex things that have come along-- and that evolution is greater than Darwin. Of course it is, but his shadow is long, and his influence is huge.
And that influence is not just in biology. It's in philosophy. It's in sociology. It's even in astronomy. And of course, it is in medicine and in agriculture. His legacy is also benevolent. The sequencing of the human genome is one activity that reflects the potential legacy that Darwin has left.
And that brings us back to Darwin himself, Darwin the man-- and that's really what I've tried to talk about tonight as opposed to the theories. I believe this is a time to celebrate, because Darwin's final paper, his last paper, was published on April 6th of 1882 in Nature. And it was a paper on the distribution of freshwater bivalves by beetles.
And Darwin based that paper on specimens that had been sent to him by a shoe manufacturer and an amateur naturalist in North Hampton. Darwin died 13 days after that paper appeared. The shoe manufacturer lived on until 1903. The name of the shoe manufacturer was Walter Drawbridge Crick, and he was the grandfather of Francis Crick, one of the co-untanglers of the structure of DNA.
That is emblematic, I believe, of the strong foundation that Darwin has laid for us. There is much to admire about this man, and in one way or another, all of us are beneficiaries of a good and gentle and modest and caring and wise and generous man-- one of the great pillars-- pillars-- of modern knowledge. Happy birthday, Charles. We salute you.
Well, thank you very much, I will say quickly.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] what became of Wallace?
FRANK RHODES: Yeah. Yeah. What became of Wallace?
FRANK RHODES: Wallace earned his living as a professional naturalist and always gave enormous credit to Darwin, not to himself-- although he was the co-discoverer of natural selection, gave enormous credit to Darwin. Because his argument was that I may have discovered that with you, but you convinced the world that evolution had taken place. It was your discussion of dogs and pigeons and all that went into The Origin that carried the day.
He continued to be a professional naturalist, but he became a wealthy man. He never had a formal position, but he became wealthy. And he wrote a number of books, including one on the geographic distribution of animals-- the Wallace Line across Southeast Asia is named in his honor. He was really a remarkable leader in the early development of zoogeography.
He became in his later years a spiritualist and the founder of the modern spiritualist movement. But he was altogether an admirable and able and remarkable man.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
FRANK RHODES: Yes, Alice.
AUDIENCE: It was the fear of how it was received both-- particularly also religious issues. Was it received differently in a young America? [INAUDIBLE] Europe? And what was-- as the first publications were happening, how was the reception in different parts of the world? Greater or lesser, or--
FRANK RHODES: The question was-- forgive the lozenge-- was the reception of his views different in the US from the UK or Europe? I don't know enough to give a real answer, but I will try anyway. My sense is that the views were more readily adopted on the Continent than they were in North America.
The myth of all this is that there was a great religious divide. All the people of religious persuasion condemned him, and all the scientists embraced him. Nothing could be further from the truth. There were many of the leading scientists of his day, including Adam Sedgwick, including Alexander Agassiz, for example, who had-- well, Sedgwick rejected the whole thing out of hand. Agassiz had doubts.
So the world was divided, and some of the leading churchmen embraced him. But in general, I think his views were more readily embraced in Europe than they were in this country. But that's a very incautious answer and is probably wrong.
AUDIENCE: So you mentioned briefly something about Darwinian dogmatism and how each side needs to stop being so dogmatic. But it wasn't clear-- there's sort of two different kinds when that comes up. One time is legitimate scientific debate between biologists, between sort of neutralists and selectionists. And you have-- the neutralists might label the selectionists Darwinian dogmatists. But then there's also the political sociological debate between creationist scientists, and the creationists label all biologists Darwinian dogmatists.
FRANK RHODES: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So which one were you talking about? Where you talking about both--
FRANK RHODES: Both. I think the one that's most obvious, of course, is the divide between those who see him as a threat to believe in divine providence and those who embrace him. But there's also, even within the world of biology, there is a divide between those who regard natural selection as a total explanation without other factors impinging upon it and those who don't.
On the first, which is the more obvious of the two-- you know, it's possible to be a Darwinian fundamentalist. I've just come from a lecture by Russ Brant, and he spent-- I didn't have time to hear the end of it because I had to come here-- but he spent most of the lecture commenting on fundamentalism and its opposition to Darwin. But you can also be a Darwinian fundamentalist, such as Richard Dawkins, who is just as rigid, I think, in his own views as to the implications of Darwin as some of the others.
My own view is that the two are complementary-- they touch, but they don't contradict. They are complementary in that sense. But that's a huge question, and I am a geologist and not a theologian.
AUDIENCE: Would you be interested in commenting on the popular use of the term belief in evolution? Many-- even scientists who talk about evolution talk about a belief in evolution as opposed to a separate theory or--
FRANK RHODES: Yes. The question was, as I understand it, what about belief in evolution amongst scientists and others? One of the early problems about belief in evolution was that no one had ever seen it happen. No one had seen one species turn into another. Today-- well, that was one concern. The second concern was whether there was enough geologic time for it to happen. Both those two concerns haunted Darwin. And the third one was, what's the mechanism for evolution? So three problems.
One is observing it happen. Has it really happened? Second, what mechanism can produce it? Because Darwin didn't know of Mendel's work until 10 years later. And third, is there enough geologic time? And in each of those three cases, I think the answer is the evidence is now conclusive.
We can see change on a very rapid scale sometimes in Darwin's finches. The grounds have studied recent changes in Darwin's finches. There is clear change in the fossil record with transitional forms not only between species but between classes-- between reptiles and mammals, between reptiles and birds, between fish and amphibians. Transitional forms now are known in countless numbers. And there is ample geologic time the oldest fossil-like organisms-- excuse me-- are more than 3 billion years old, and so the amount of time is substantial.
I think one can believe in it. I think one can choose to say the evidence is not overwhelming. But I think now it stands as at least comparable to other substantial scientific theories. It is possible to disbelieve in gravity, but the way we live every day does demand a certain assumption that it's correct.
Oh, yes. Yes, Tom. Good to see you, Tom.
FRANK RHODES: No, no.
AUDIENCE: --the confrontation between the creationists and the evolutionists. Whether one could have a third point of view, which is let's worry about the future of the species. They have terrible futures. How can we agree on having salvation and find a common ground about their past?
FRANK RHODES: Yeah. Thank you. Dr. Eisner's question was a fascinating one, and it is prophetic rather than retrospective. It is, maybe it's time-- if I can paraphrase it-- maybe it's time to stop worrying about our battles concerning the past and concentrate on our needs to ponder the future, to take serious action to preserve our future. And I think that's exactly right.
EO Wilson, you know, has been an advocate of just this kind of coming together as stewards of the planet on which we live. We've inherited a small and a remarkable planet-- so far as we know know, the only place in which life exists in the universe as we know it. And we are literally steward species. We have the capacity, literally, to change the future of life on the planet, either wisely or foolishly.
And that's a profound challenge, and it's one that Darwin would well have understood, I think. So it may well be, Tom, that that's the best note on which we can leave this remarkable man. We salute him for what he's achieved in the past. We recognize that what he has said gives us an obligation to ponder our role in creating the future. Thank you very much.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
President Emeritus Dr. Frank H. T. Rhodes discusses the origins of Darwin's research and his theory of evolution. Rhodes' talk opened the exhibition, "Charles Darwin: After the
Origin," a collaboration between Cornell and the Museum of the Earth.
The lecture was held February 12, 2009 in the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium at Cornell's Goldwin Smith Hall, as part of Ithaca's Darwin Day celebration.