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A Letter to Charles Darwin

A letter written in response to reading Cyril Aydon’s Charles Darwin (Carroll & Graf, 2002).

My dear Charles,

Pardon the familiarity of my greeting but I was deeply moved by reading of your life, and I believe that we are brothers, cut from the same cloth. I mourned your death, at the end of the book, with fresh tears. Your life has given my half-life new meaning and new direction. Thank you for being true to yourself.

Although I wasn’t raised by older sisters as you were, I did prefer the company of girls to boys when I was young, and we both share the resultant gentleness and sensitivity. We also share the same taste in women. I, too, have been attracted to the outgoing, flirtatious types like Fanny Owen, but, given the chance, I would hope to settle for a lifetime with someone just like your Emma (Wedgwood)—pretty, intelligent, caring and not overly concerned about cleanliness—someone who would read novels (with happy endings) to me and play a game of backgammon every night before bed. (I’ve been wondering: Did Emma read you Jane Austen’s novels?)

I, too, was raised in a privileged home. Just as your grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, provided both financial and philosophical legacies for you, so did my grandfather, Glenn Andreas. And your father and my parents gave us a balance between the freedom to explore our many interests and the discipline to make a career for ourselves, even when it wasn’t financially necessary. That privilege enabled us to dream big and pursue opportunities not always available to others, like our world travels. It was those travels that opened both of us up to new ideas, including ideas that would eventually erode our common Christian faith. And, it must be added, we both spent some time exploring the waters around South America—you far longer than I—and we both struggled with seasickness!

We both went to college intending to study medicine, but it was the path for neither of us. We both share that insatiable, childlike curiosity to know how the world works and the adolescent dream of making a major contribution to the encyclopedia of human knowledge. Of course, you did it! My part remains to be seen. It gives me hope, I must say, that you didn’t begin your formal scientific studies till you were 37—and then spent eight years at it.

You were, as a father, how I have always wished I could be—and tried to be as a teacher. I can’t say I ever pictured myself with ten children, but then I never considered what it would mean to lose one of them, let alone three as you did. When I reached the point in the story of your life where you lost Annie, just after her tenth birthday, I was inconsolable. I cannot imagine the agony that you and Emma shared or how you could so diligently carry on with your work. I am so very sorry for the losses you have suffered. Although it is not comparable, the loss of all meaningful contact with children in my life has torn my heart out. You were such a very good father, progressive for your time, giving your children a wonderful sense of self-confidence. I hope the legacy continues in today’s Darwins.

I am saddened to know that you spent most of your life struggling with anxiety, depression, and illness, and that it diminished your ability to accomplish more. But you more than made up for it during your good days and the world will forever be a better place because of it. I hope you won’t find it untoward of me, to be encouraged by your weakness. You see, I am in prison and will most likely be here for a very long time. That is my curse, my ‘illness’, and it eats away at my ability to be as industrious as I would like. Your example of perseverance in the face of adversity gives me hope and strength, and inspires me to continue pursuing my dreams and studies. And, as your biographer suggested, your infirmity had the advantage of excusing you from participating in too many frustratingly time-consuming committees and social gatherings. I share the same ‘advantage’ of carrying a lighter social load, enabling me to spend more time exploring my interests. We share the same aversion to idle chit-chat and are happier observing the twittering of birds.

And so, my dear friend, although neither of us believe that we’ll meet in some ‘hereafter’, we have already met in the here-and-now, thanks to the miracle of literature, and because you lived a life worth remembering. Your body may be no more, but you are very much alive in all of us who think of you with fondness and admiration. You are dearly missed; your ideas will never be forgotten.

Yours, with great affection,

Jonathan Andreas

© 2008 Jon Andreas. All rights reserved. Written 10 March 2008