Musings...

Robert Cotner, Editor

harles Darwin was our greatest biologist. Had there been a Nobel Prize in his day, he certainly would have been a Laureate. With extraordinary patience and care, he studied Earth's natural habitats and gave us, besides his remarkable findings, global empiricism as a new approach in the consideration of things physical. Single-handedly, he caused science to rival — some might say to excel — philosophy and religion, the disciplines considered ultimate human pursuits in his time. His work has touched every field of intellectual endeavor, from the study of botany and zoology to the study of literature and the law.

Two significant events related to Darwin have occurred recently. The first was the publication of Philip Appleman's Darwin, the Third Edition in the Norton Critical Edition series. The Third Edition is more than 100 pages longer than the Second (1979). It presents the essential writings of Darwin, including the Voyage of the Beagle, The Origin of Species, and The Descent of Man.

This edition contains, as well, a collection of writings by others on Darwin and his work, covering every aspect of society's reaction to the great biologist. The collection is as current as the recent debates in Kansas over creationism and evolution in the public schools. Forged by the perspicuity of Appleman, who may be our greatest living Darwin scholar, this new edition is a distillation of the essence of Darwin in our time. It has depth, richness, and a literary quality enhanced by Appleman's own essays and poetry, written as critical components in his own lifelong pursuit of Darwin's life and work.

Appleman, Caxton dinner speaker on October 21, 1992, concluded his masterful presentation in Darwin with "The Voyage Home," a poem in which Apple-man imagined a conversation with Darwin on Apple-man's own trip aboard a merchant mariner in 1948, when he was 22 — the age of Darwin when he went to sea on the Beagle in 1831. He wrote, "So in this final convoy / of the social instincts / Now we ride the oceans of / imagination, all horizon / and no port." So the study of Darwin may be best described.

The second important Darwin event is "Charles Darwin," a splendid exhibition at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, running through June 24, 2001, which my wife Norma and I had the pleasure of viewing on a recent trip to California. The exhibition displays Darwin's findings and ideas from his 31 books, consisting of over 10,000 pages of text, and from more than 13,000 letters, written throughout his lifetime, some of which are exhibited in the quiet magnificence of the Huntington.

The exhibition covers ten major areas in the life and work of Darwin: Education, On the H.M.S. Beagle, Reporting the Voyage, the Zoology, Darwin and [Alfred Russel] Wallace, the Origin of Species, Defending Natural Selection, Evolution Continued, Botanical Studies, and Conflict & Legacy. Containing letters, maps, extensive artwork, photographs, and books themselves, the exhibition offers a comprehensive view of this scientist, whose work ranks in importance with that of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein.

Once upon a time we shall come to understand, without fear or prejudice, the significance of Darwin's achievements, so elegantly delineated by Appleman in his poem "On the Beagle": "There / in the Bay of Good Success, / Charles Darwin, on the foredeck of the Beagle, / our future in his freezing / fingertips, / stared into the faces / of our past." v

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See selected chronology of books by Charles Darwin

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