Sunday, May 26, 2024

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force, something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse. — ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

Don’t get us wrong. Darwin knew plenty, and he deserves his place in the pantheon of great thinkers. If you’re a Darwin-basher looking for support, you’ll find little here. Charles Darwin was a genius and a gentleman for whom we have endless respect. But as is often the case with gentleman geniuses, he was a bit clueless when it came to women.

In questions of human sexual behavior, Darwin had little to go on other than conjecture. His own sexual experience appears to have been limited to his vehemently proper wife, Emma Wedgwood, who was also his first cousin. During his circumnavigation of the globe on the Beagle, the young naturalist appears never to have gone ashore in search of the sexual and sensual pleasures pursued by many seafaring men of that era. Darwin was apparently far too inhibited for the decidedly hands-on data collection Herman Melville hinted at in his best-selling novels Typee and Omoo, or to sample the dusky South Pacific pleasures that had inspired the sexually frustrated crew of The Bounty to mutiny.

Darwin was far too buttoned-up for such carnal pursuits. His by-the-book approach to such matters is evident in his careful consideration of marriage in the abstract, before he even had any particular woman in mind. He sketched out the pros and cons in his notebook: Marry and Not Marry. On the Marry side he listed, “Children — (if it Please God) — Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, — object to be loved and played with. — Better than a dog anyhow… female chit-chat… but terrible loss of time.”

On the other side of the page, Darwin listed concerns such as “Freedom to go where one liked — choice of Society & little of it… Not forced to visit relatives & to bend in every trifle… fatness & idleness — Anxiety & responsibility… Perhaps my wife wont [sic] like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool.”12

Though Darwin proved to be a very loving husband and father, these pros and cons of marriage suggest he very seriously considered opting for the companionship of a dog instead.