I had it all planned, we'd throw a little party for Charles Darwin's 200th birthday today.
Wouldn't that be nice?
I'd have read The Origin of Species and would present a coherent account of evolutionary theory and perhaps we'd have had a little foray on board the Beagle too.
Best laid plans and all that and true to form I haven't managed either but I'm sure that's only because I've been more engrossed in The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Thomson to be published by Yale University Press any day now.
It is to Keith Thomson's credit that having opened a book that seemed unlikely to hold my attentions, he then had me interested enough in Darwin's early evolution (sorry it had to happen eventually) into that much older bearded man of the fixed and intense gaze that I am more familiar with and I kept reading. Actually, and not that strangely for me, I've always been as interested as Charles Darwin himself in his mysterious array of medical symptoms. The poor man was a walking Black's Medical Encyclopaedia with frequent vomiting, abdominal pain, flatulence, constipation, nausea, headaches, joint pains, neural tingling, the eczema flare-ups and all the twenty-first century diagnostics now favouring some form of inflammatory bowel goings-on.
No wonder the poor man descended into galloping hypochondria with panic attacks and I always find it a salutory reminder to think quite how the challenges of ill-health, doubtless made far worse by many of the remedies, must have made focused thought so much more difficult for a man like Charles Darwin. The eczema alone must have driven him to distraction and most of these symptoms well entrenched by the age of thirty though he lived to be seventy-three, all making his intellectual output even more exceptional.
I just keep picking this book up and sneaking a bit more and a bit more.
I know plenty of people who are home all day and seem to feel some strange and agonising guilt about sitting down to read in the mornings.
How can the rest of us help the poor souls?
I overcame guilt about anything at all to do with books years ago, guilt and books are completely incompatible, from spending money to spending time, the years tick on and I still have a lot of books left to read so I'll read whenever I can.
But if you do feel the slightest bit guilty and consequently furtive about morning reading then I'd say pick up non-fiction because that's studying really isn't it?
What better time to study than in the morning?
Even better a book like this and you learn so much, the Neptunists..it was the sea that did it...Vulcanists...blame it on the crust.
So now I'm home-based I'm allowed to read whenever I want; an evolution of sorts which brings me back to where I should be and Charles Darwin who also clearly suffered thus, reporting to his sister
'I have been most shockingly idle, actually reading two novels at once.'
Have no fear, the young Charles was studying medicine at Edinburgh so he was also reading A Practical Treatise on Various Diseases of the Abdominal Viscera by Pemberton and Introduction to Conchology by Brookes.
I don't know what I thought Charles Darwin's background was or the historical context of his youth, in fact had I ever even considered the question?
Probably not but now I see that being born in 1809 places Charles Darwin in the midst of Jane Austen's (1775 - 1817) most productive years and you just wonder, were those novels hers,?
Could Jane have influenced Charles?
Then a few clicks and you see that someone else has already been there. and thought of all that.
So a book like this is taking me into the realms of new knowledge and some off the beaten track thinking, and the thrill of science and discovery that must have captured Darwin's imagination is wholly evident in Keith Thomson's very readable study.
And as I settled down to pick up the book one dark and snowy morning I had cause to consider an evolutionary puzzle of my very own.
What is it about cats and blankets?