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Charles Darwin On Marriage: Lessons & Laughs From A Scientist With Cold Feet

A dapper Charles Darwin.

For most of us, the name Charles Darwin rings the evolution bell.

He is most famous for his in-depth studies of nature in the Galapagos Islands, and the resulting theories that he presented in which he inadvertently called into question just about every fairytale-ish religious theory of the history of Earth ever recorded. Darwin is, by and large, a guy who we largely connect with the science of scientific proof.; an Englishman from the nineteenth century who took it upon himself to do something no one had ever really bothered to do before.

In a nutshell, he was a fellow who dedicated much of his life to looking closer at the little things, so that we may all have a better understanding of the bigger stuff.

So, it seems kind of sweetly ironic that the public release of some private journal entries written by Darwin during his bachelor years are actually stirring up the interest of a whole lot of people who may or may not be curious about evolution at all.

In fact, Darwin may damn well be the new face of a whole new scientific gang known as, “Guys With Cold Feet!”

According to a recent article on Yahoo! (which cites the Darwin Correspondence Project as the force behind the tale), Darwin, a man of certainty in science, was a little bit uncertain about something in his own life: marriage.

In fact, in a note that the legend scribbled down in his 1,838 diary regarding whether to ultimately marry or not, he actually makes me chuckle when he innocently weighs something that lots of bachelors can relate to.

“If not marry. Travel. Europe, yes? America????”

Ha! I love it!

Maybe I don’t want or need to get married, right? Maybe I can just spend my days seeing the world, touring the sites.

It’s one of the first things that people contemplating marriage ever ponder. Is this the end of my wanderlust? Will I never see Rome or Paris or Thailand or beyond?

I like knowing that even the great minds of long ago were all hot and bothered by the same things that still bother us today.

A little later Darwin allowed for the possibility of both not traveling AND not getting married. His streamlined vision of his future reminds me of how green we all are when we are young and idealistic and so caught up in our own passions a pursuits. He writes:

“If I don’t travel.— Work at transmission of Species— …Live in London for where else possible in small house, near Regents Park — keep horse — take Summer tours Collect specimens some line of Zoolog…”

I smile at this, at the thought of a young man making his lists during the lazy part of some afternoon long ago, jotting down a very specific idea for where he wanted his life to go were he not to marry. He even had his house picked out in his mind.

That’s what I call thorough.

The real fun begins though when Darwin shifted his inner-gaze upon the distinct possibility of marriage in his near future.

On that same day, in that same journal entry, he allowed himself to list some major pros and cons of marriage. It’s a revealing look at what a young man struggling to find his place in the world feared most about commitment and sharing his life with another.

“Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one,” he wrote, realizing that a life of loneliness might not be his thing; “…object to be beloved & played with.— —better than a dog anyhow,” he resolves.

“Better than a dog, anyhow!?” Ha! I remember when my wife and I first got married and we shared a few of our personal journals with each other, knowing that doing so would both show our mutual trust to one another and help us understand each others past mindsets a bit better. But, I can’t imagine if my wife had stumbled upon me writing something quite like that. I would have had some explaining to do, no doubt.

Still, I find it fascinating that Darwin was so immersed in such conflict with marriage in general. Mostly, I suppose, because it was THE thing that people did back then. To remain unmarried, no matter who you were or what life you were pursuing, typically brought down much more social scorn and eyebrow raising than it does today.

And in that sense, Darwin seemed a bit ahead of his time, wouldn’t you say?

He certainly proved that in the years to come.

Of course, as enlightening as his words appear to us all this time later, this was the 1800′s and Darwin was obviously still very much a man living in “man’s world,” so to speak.

For in his small list of  the benefits of marriage he was sure to include a doozie that I’m sure flew just fine back then, but certainly wouldn’t be deemed anything but sexist today.

Home,” he wrote, his mind conjuring up that timeless vision of a warm safe place in which married folks hope to live out their happiest years together. Then, with complete earnestness, he added,”… & someone to take care of house.

Oh Charles.

(It’s worth noting, as the Yahoo! article points out, that a short time after he scribbled down his thoughts, Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood (Hey, it was 1838!).  And they remained happily married for 44 years and had ten children.)

 

Info Source: Yahoo!, The Darwin Correspondence Project

Image: flickr.com/photos/l2f1

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