Friday, 23 January 2009

On such small incidents is history made.

Thinking back to two posts earlier this week - that of the centenary of Shackleton's voyage to Antarctica and the shepherds' way of counting sheep - I found a link to another great historical figure - Charles Darwin. Only a tenuous link in each case, but on such links rests history.
Darwin's bi-centenary falls this year. He was born on February 12th 1809. After attending Shrewsbury school as a boarder (he lived half a mile down the road and developed his running skills by nipping home each evening after "prep" and getting back in time for lights out!), he was destined for life as a doctor, like his father. But attendance at two operations - one on a child - before the introduction of chloroform- put him off medicine for life. Then his father persuaded him to become a clergyman and this he would have done except for a small incident, which changed the course of history. He was offered a place as Naturalist on HMS Beagle, which was to sail on an Admiralty survey around the world. And that changed the course of his life for ever.
Sitting aboard HMS Beagle in Good Success Bay in Tierra del Fuego, he thought, "I could not enjoy my life better than in adding a little to Natural Science!"
He attributed the success of "The Origin of Species" to its moderate size. He said that he originally intended it to be five times as large, in which case he thought few would have had the patience to read it.
And the link to shepherds' counting method? As a young man, Darwin was a keen shooter. When he went shooting he would fasten a piece of string to his buttonhole and every time he shot a bird he would tie a knot in the string, thus keeping an accurate tally of his prowess.
Of such tiny incidents is history made.

14 comments:

Coastcard said...

When I was at school, we made felt mice with long string tails. Each week if we passed out Table Test we were allowed to tie a new knot in the mouse's tail. When our mice finally had twelve knots, we dipped the tail tip in green ink. My times tables may be a bit rusty these days, but I still have the mouse ... some 40 years on!

jinksy said...

I wonder who worked out the length of string it would take to allow 12 knots to be tied?

Apart from that, hats off to Darwin...

Debra (a/k/a Doris, Mimi) said...

I recall reading Darwin's The Origin of Species while studying in college. I was fascinated by Darwin's theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. The idea of biological evolution was around long before Darwin published On The Origin, and was set out in Classical times by the Greek and Roman atomists, notably Lucretius. Some sources have traced the concept back as far as Aristotle. Darwin is still a fascinating read and provides stimulating conversation. I never heard of the string and really like Coastcard's mouse "tale" (ha!).

Elizabeth said...

Have you read Gwen Raveret's beautifully written 'Period Piece' about growing up as a Darwin granddaughter in Cambridge?
I read it ages ago but always remember it as a model of its type.

Ladybird World Mother said...

I love that book Period Piece! (Elizabeth's comment)
Have always had a soft spot for Charles Darwin as went out with his great (a few times) grand son...they are an incredible family.

willow said...

I've got Period Piece on my library list. Fascinating family.

The Weaver of Grass said...

What a lovely story coastcard!

The Weaver of Grass said...

How long is a piece of string, Jinksy?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting stuff Debra.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to you all - shall order Period Piece at the library forthwith.

Heather said...

I too have all the Jan Beaney, Jean Littlejohn books and have been lucky enough to be tutored by them on two or three day schools. Your post about Charles Darwin is fascinating - I learn something every time.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

What a coincidence that you should talk about Charles Darwin - I'm just about to do some research on him! This has got me off to a good start - thank you Weaver!

Teresa said...

Your posts never fail to fascinate and inform.... do keep them coming!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to you all.