Thursday, February 08, 2007

Darwin Says " Marry, Marry, Marry Q.E.D."

When Darwin was 29 he had returned from his voyage on the Beagle. He wanted to get on with the ambitious career of natural science that he had set for himself. But first, he must answer a much bigger question than the origin of species: should he marry? Being of an analytic turn of mind, Darwin drew up a pro and con list. (I have highlighted a few choice considerations):


Children (if it Please God)
Constant companion (and friend in old age) who will feel interested in one
Object to be beloved and played with. Better than a dog anyhow
Home, & someone to take care of house
Charms of music and female chit-chat
These things good for one’s health—but terrible loss of time
My God, it is intolerable to think of spending one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, and nothing after all—No, no, won’t do
Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London House
Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire and books and music perhaps
Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Great Marlboro Street, London

Not Marry

Freedom to go where one liked
Choice of Society and little of it
Conversation of clever men at clubs
Not forced to visit relatives and bend in every trifle
Expense and anxiety of children
Perhaps quarrelling
Loss of Time
Cannot read in the evenings
Fatness and idleness
Anxiety and responsibility
Less money for books etc.
If many children forced to gain one’s bread (But then it is very bad for one’s health to work too much)
Perhaps my wife won’t like London; then the sentence is banishment and degradation into indolent, idle fool

Marry, Marry, Marry Q.E.D.

Darwin promptly married his cousin, Emma Wedgewood, and they had a long fruitful, and notably happy marriage.

This whole story is charming. "Better than a dog anyhow" may enter the family lexicon.

I was struck by two particular lines. The great London clubs, the successors to the coffee houses that I have written about often, were truly attractive for the conversation of clever men. They were not quite third places, because of their exclusive membership, but they did offer varied conversation of a large enough group of informed men. The downside for me, and other "clever men" today, is that the clubs did not include the conversation of clever women.

In contrast to the clubs, Darwin draws a picture of the ideal type of the home scene of a knowledge class man of the Victorian era: " a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire and books and music perhaps." We know that the Darwins did have much intelligent conversation at home, and that Charles Darwin respected Emma Darwin's opinion. He loved playing with his children, too. Darwin is a model for an engaged husband and father who sustained his prodigious schedule of work and thought.

Marry, Marry, Marry; Converse, Converse, Converse; Work, Work, Work. Q.E.D.


Mark Smith said...

Having been married for 12 years, I sometimes feel the call to say things like this.

Having been married for 12 years, I've learned not to say most of them out loud.

Gruntled said...

Having been married twice 12 years, I've learned that saying this sort of thing makes Mrs. G. make a wonderful scrunch face of pained amusement.

Adele said...
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