Tag Archives: Paul Johnson

Charles Darwin’s plan for Origin of Species – and his luck

It helps to have a plan. It also helps to have luck.

Charles Darwin had both.

In fact, Paul Johnson, one of Darwin’s many biographers (Darwin: Portrait of a Genius), calls Darwin the luckiest man of his age.

The luck

Darwin’s stokes of luck began when he was born into a wealthy family — the kind of wealth that would free him to pursue his scientific research without worrying about feeding and housing himself or his family. Darwin came of age when science and scientists were creating new foundations for human knowledge, and many people were participating in building these foundations with avid enthusiasm. Darwin became part of this movement and exhibited a demeanor and temperament that attracted people to him.

Charles Darwin

He took great care in developing those friendships. One of the many friendships was with Sir Charles Lyell, a geologist whose book The Principles of Geology (1832), argued that scientific evidence showed that the earth, without any doubt whatsoever, was thousands, maybe millions, of years old. Such an argument flew directly in the face of Biblical scholars and theologians who had used the Old Testament to set the time of creation as occurring only about four to six thousand years before.

Over the years, Lyell became aware of the work that Darwin was doing, and he — as had others in Darwin’s retinue — urged him to publish his work identifying natural selection as the process whereby living organisms evolved.

But Darwin hesitated. He feared the rejection of his ideas by his colleagues, and he feared the reaction of Emma Darwin, his devout and devoted wife. (See The Three Fears of Charles Darwin, an earlier post of JPROF.com.)

Then came what biographer Johnson called “the greatest stroke of good fortune” in Darwin’s “remarkably lucky life.” (p.76)

Darwin received a letter and manuscript from Alfred Russel Wallace, a scientific researcher who was looking at natural life in the Pacific. Wallace was coming to the same conclusion that Darwin had reached — that the method of evolution was natural selection. Darwin shared Wallace’s correspondence with Lyell. The geologist knew that Darwin had written a paper about natural selection that pre-dated Wallace’s manuscript. Lyell and other friends of Darwin arranged to have both Darwin’s and Wallace’s manuscript read together at a scientific meeting, thus establishing that Darwin was first with the idea.

The meeting itself drew little notice, and the audience had difficulty in understanding the meaning and significance of the paper, but the record was there.

Wallace’s correspondence was what spurred Darwin to write Origin of Species. Darwin had envisioned a multivolume work that would be published over several years. Wallace’s work precluded that — another lucky stroke for Darwin. Origin of Species was a well-written, tightly argued, and thoroughly understandable book when it came out in November 1859.

The plan

Darwin’s basic marketing plan, according to Johnson, was to let others promote the book while never appearing to do so himself. He planned to be drafted into immortality. And so he was.

Darwin had studied the work on many others as he was developing his theory, and he referred to their work with generous praise in his book. It is difficult to criticize the work of a man who praises your own. Besides, Darwin had many genuine admirers, among them Charles Lyell, of course, who held a public meeting to announce the publication of the book and to explain its significance. Asa Gray at Harvard was Darwin’s chief American supporter, and he did the same thing even before the book was available in America. In addition, he wrote a long review of the book for Atlantic Monthly magazine, one of the most influential publications in the country. Darwin had the review reprinted and distributed in Great Britain.

Given the nature of the book and the controversy it stirred up — and continues to engender more than a century and a half later — Origin of Species attracted little hostility in the first months of its publication.

That would come later.

By then, Darwin was where he wanted to be. He was the world’s most eminent scientist.



The fears of Charles Darwin; Typhoid Mary; installing the bees: newsletter, April 6, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,171) on Friday, April 6, 2018.

Planting the garden was the first order of business on the farm this week. After I had completed the tilling last week, we had some more rain, so the planting did not begin on Good Friday, as is our usual custom. But we did manage to get in some beans and broadcast some buckwheat. It always feels good to do some planting. You never know what will happen.

And speaking of never knowing, I installed three new hives of bees last week. More on that below. You never know about them either.

So, these past few days have been fun for me. I hope the same can be said for you.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


The fears of Charles Darwin

In the late 1850s, Charles Darwin was haunted by three fears. The first two kept him from completing is world-altering book, Origin of Species. The third spurred him to finish it.

Darwin feared what his colleagues would think of his work; more specifically, he feared that it would be dismissed as irrelevant. His second fear was his wife Emma. She was a highly religious woman, and his scientific work — as well as that of fellow scientists — was being increasingly challenged by the Church of England — just as those scientists were challenging the position of the church as the primary arbiter of truth.

The third of Darwin’s fears was that he thought he might get scooped. That fear came rushing through the door in the form of a letter and manuscript that arrived at his house in the late spring of 1858. It caused Darwin to begin writing a concise, coherent argument for his idea that evolution occurred through natural selection. A year and a half later, he was finished and Origin of Species was published.

You can read more about all of this in this post on JPROF.com.


Major League Baseball teams with Facebook

Major League Baseball got together with Facebook for an interesting first this week: It was the first time MLB had broadcast a live game only on Facebook. There are several more such games scheduled throughout the season. (See the post I did on JPROF.com for the schedule.) So, why is this interesting?

Facebook is a social media platform, not a broadcast network. It’s not ESPN or MLB.TV or one of the local stations that carry the games of the local teams. There’s a different audience there — an interactive audience. Indeed, the broadcast was set up to allow viewers to comment, to respond, to chat with their friends about the game, the players, the weather conditions anything and everything. This may or may not be good for baseball or for Facebook, but it’s different and interesting.

And it’s something new for Facebook, too. Is Facebook morphing into something more than a social media platform? Will it start producing and broadcasting its own programming, ala Amazon? Given Facebook’s current public relations problems, I wouldn’t be surprised at any of this.


Typhoid Mary

Typhoid Mary is not just an expression, and she’s not a ghost from some mysterious past. She was a real person who lived in the 20th century and whose story is a sad one. Her name was Mary Mallon. She lived and worked in New York City during the first decade of the 20th century. She was a cook, and during those first years of the new century, she worked in the homes of a number of wealthy families.

Seven of those families suffered typhoid outbreaks, and in 1906 she was named by public health officials as the cause. She never had typhoid or suffered any symptoms, but she was a carrier.

She was quarantined in 1906 and released four years later after promising she would not work as a cook again. Soon thereafter she disappeared. Five years later, public health officials were again investigating an outbreak of typhoid at a New York hospital when they discovered she had been working there as a cook under a different name. Again, she was quarantined, but this time it was for 23 years — the remainder of her life.

Mallon was born in Ireland in 1869 and came to the U.S. when she was a teenager. She is thought to be the cause of several thousand people contracting typhoid during her working years, and some of those people died. According to the National Institutes of Health, no one ever explained to her the significance of being a carrier of the disease. She eventually accepted her confinement and took solace in her religion. 



The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

Amazon Gift Card raffle. Here’s a chance to win an Amazon gift card worth $100 with which to do some spring shopping. All you have to do is sign in (if you’ve use rafflecopter.com before, you may not even have to do that). You will get yourself on some author mailing lists, but you can always unsubscribe if you prefer. https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ad6cea034/


Installing the bees

For about a decade now I have been keeping bees, and one of the most exciting times in the life of a beekeeper is when you get to install a new hive of bees. That happened for us this week as we picked up three new packages of bees and put them into hives. A standard “package” of bees is a box with three pounds of bees (about 10,000 bees) inside. Also inside is a queen in a separate small cage.

So, how do you persuade the bees to go into the hives that you have prepared for them? Well, you pour them in — literally.

To see this process, watch this three-minute YouTube video that I posted several years ago. https://youtu.be/hmHFjyYO0cE

Next week I’ll tell you more about what was going on in the video and how we get the hives going.



The email bag included the following reactions to items in last week’s newsletter:

Bach’s birthday

Jack S.: There is much confusion in changing dates from Old Style (O.S.) to New Style (N.S.) because different countries and different religions made the change at different times.  The O.S. Julian calendar presumed a year was 365.25 days.  By the mid 16th C. scientists had determined the year was exactly 365.2425 days.  This meant the Julian calendar had too many leap years.The difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars adds up the accumulated days to 10, therefore there are 10 days difference between the 2 calendars (slightly different in the UK and its colonies).
Bach is generally said to have been born on March 21; the Gregorian calendar had already been adopted in Catholic countries in 1582, but the Protestant areas of Germany didn’t adopt the new calendar until 1700; 15 years after Bach’s birth.  Thuringia had been Protestant since the Protestant Reformation, so we can assume the calendar change was in 1700.
Bach’s birthday as March 21 is O.S., which makes March 31 correct—probably.  However I’ve read that the coming calendar change was known for almost 50 years before the change actually occurred.  I’ve seen reports (no, I don’t remember where or when) that many dates had already been transposed for 20 years before the actual fact of the change.
Since March 21 was the date I adopted my wife’s twins 40+ years ago I’ve always chosen to keep March 21 as Bach’s birthday.  Such a great excuse for playing Bach’s music all day, even over the complaints of 2 teenagers wanting someting “more relevant.”
De gustibus and all that.

Opening Day

Tod: . . .  thanks for the Casey at the Bat. I remember our 5th grade teacher, Miss Everett, reading that to us, with her own dramatics.

The Stone Fleet

Angie L.: I remember stories about the sinking of ships in the Charleston Harbor, I was born in Charleston and grew up close by I also remember them having to dredge it out because the debris was stopping the port flow. Since the Navy closed the base, they still have the Naval Weapons Station there and with the new Author Ravenel Bridge, things have changed. They have the maritime museum which has the USS Yorktown and a few others that are great to walk through. The Cooper River has always held a special place in my heart as it has to others who watched the old bridges being replaced by the suspension bridge.It is a beautiful place to visit.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Charles Darwin

Best quote of the week:

“There are two ways that a human being can feel confidence. One is knowledge, and the other is ignorance.” — Charles Darwin

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 


You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Free audiobooks and more; Churchill the writer, part 3; the Stone Fleet; newsletter, March 30, 2018 



The three fears of Charles Darwin and the writing of The Origin of Species

Three fears haunted Charles Darwin during the 15 years it took him to write and publish his history-changing work, The Origin of Species.

Two of them slowed his writing down. He feared that his work would be dismissed by the fellow scientists for whom it was written. That would have been a humiliation that he did not believe he could stand.

He also feared what his wife, a deeply religious woman, would think.

The final fear had the opposite effect from the first two. It drove him to finish and finish quickly.

He feared getting scooped.

Charles Darwin

All three of those fears were far worse in Darwin’s mind than they turned out in reality. Darwin had been a working scientist for more than a quarter of a century at that point. He was careful, meticulous, and thorough — far more thorough than he needed to be. Darwin spent years collecting evidence to support his theory and ended up with far more evidence than he needed.

During all of that time, Darwin carefully cultivated many friendships and relationships among scientists. He spent much time reading and responding to papers sent to him by other scientists. He gentle and gentlemanly manner often won people over even when they did not agree with his solutions.

When Origin of Species was published in November 1859, it was favorably and sometimes glowingly reviewed by many of the people who knew him and his work very well. The reception of the book, both by the public and by fellow scientists, was immensely favorable.

As to the second fear — Darwin’s wife’s reaction — he had taken some pains to alleviate what might be a problem. He had been careful not to deal with human evolution in this book. The idea of evolution had been a matter of public and scientific discussion for a while, and the idea that man had “descended” from apes was already in the public’s mind. But Darwin did not say that, and the Church of England’s response to the book was initially fairly mild.

Darwin’s wife Emma rejoiced at Charles’ good fortune in having the book so well received. According to Paul Johnson’s biography of Darwin (Darwin: Portrait of a Genius):

She was a loyal wife, and her support and evident approval of the book as a work of professional scholarship removed a huge burden from Darwin’s shoulders. (p. 95)

Darwin’s third fear arrived in the form of a letter and a manuscript in the late spring of 1858 from Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace had been researching the development of species along the same lines as Darwin and was coming to the same “natural selection” conclusion. Darwin has first outlined his idea of natural selection in 1839 and had expanded its explanations in 1844. Darwin could thus claim that he had the idea first.

But the claim would be meaningless unless he formalized the idea and published it in a book.

Darwin quickly set to work that summer. He had envisioned a multi-volume work that would include much of his research.  Now he had to summarize it in one tight volume. And he had to do it quickly. In the words of biographer Johnson:

. . . Wallace’s intervention was an astounding stroke of luck for Darwin, typical of the good fortune that attended him throughout his life. For it did stir him into action of precisely the kind required. He began to write, with all deliberate speed, a general account of evolution by natural selection, that could be understood by the public and contained to one reasonable-sized volume. (p. 79)

The book was ready by the fall of 1859 and was published on November 22. The first printing of 1,200 sold out in a day. It continued to sell and has not been out of print for more than 150 years.

Nothing about how mankind viewed its origins would ever be the same.


Note on Alfred Russel Wallace: Wallace was doing research in South Asia when Darwin’s book was published, but he never felt that Darwin had cheated him out of the proper credit for the idea of natural selection. Wallace continued his line of research, and he and Darwin remained cordial for the remainder of their lives. Watch this five-minute video about Wallace by the BBC’s Richard Attenborough.