The Life and Letters of Darwin, Volume 2 HTML version
[We have now to consider the work (other than botanical) which occupied the concluding
six years of my father's life. A letter to his old friend Rev. L. Blomefield (Jenyns), written
in March, 1877, shows what was my father's estimate of his own powers of work at this
"My dear Jenyns (I see I have forgotten your proper names).--Your extremely kind letter
has given me warm pleasure. As one gets old, one's thoughts turn back to the past rather
than to the future, and I often think of the pleasant, and to me valuable, hours which I
spent with you on the borders of the Fens.
"You ask about my future work; I doubt whether I shall be able to do much more that is
new, and I always keep before my mind the example of poor old --, who in his old age
had a cacoethes for writing. But I cannot endure doing nothing, so I suppose that I shall
go on as long as I can without obviously making a fool of myself. I have a great mass of
matter with respect to variation under nature; but so much has been published since the
appearance of the 'Origin of Species,' that I very much doubt whether I retain power of
mind and strength to reduce the mass into a digested whole. I have sometimes thought
that I would try, but dread the attempt..."
His prophecy proved to be a true one with regard to any continuation of any general work
in the direction of Evolution, but his estimate of powers which could afterwards prove
capable of grappling with the 'Power of Movement in Plants,' and with the work on
'Earthworms,' was certainly a low one.
The year 1876, with which the present chapter begins, brought with it a revival of
geological work. He had been astonished, as I hear from Professor Judd, and as appears
in his letters, to learn that his books on 'Volcanic Islands,' 1844, and on 'South America,'
1846, were still consulted by geologists, and it was a surprise to him that new editions
should be required. Both these works were originally published by Messrs. Smith and
Elder, and the new edition of 1876 was also brought out by them. This appeared in one
volume with the title 'Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands, and Parts of
South America visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. "Beagle".' He has explained in the
preface his reasons for leaving untouched the text of the original editions: "They relate to
parts of the world which have been so rarely visited by men of science, that I am not
aware that much could be corrected or added from observations subsequently made.
Owing to the great progress which Geology has made within recent times, my views on
some few points may be somewhat antiquated; but I have thought it best to leave them as
they originally appeared."
It may have been the revival of geological speculation, due to the revision of his early
books, that led to his recording the observations of which some account is given in the