Saturday, 10 January 2009

Charles Darwin had blogger's block too

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I was at the Natural History Museum today to see the Darwin Exhibition. It's an ambitious event, which covers not only the specimens Charles Darwin studied, but seeks to understand the man himself.

His own life was an evolution: first he studied medicine, then theology and had planned to become a clergyman. His five year voyage on the Beagle at the recommendation of one of his Cambridge professors proved to be life-changing. Working as a naturalist, he discovered a love for the subject that he hadn't expected.

"Darwin explored remote regions and marvelled at a world so different from the one he knew. He encountered birds with bright blue feet, sharks with T-shaped heads and oversized tortoises.

"Everywhere he went, Darwin amassed plants, animals and fossils, and took copious notes. These collections and records were to provide the clues he needed to develop his remarkable theory." (from the Natural History Museum website)

It was on this voyage that Darwin formulated his theory of evolution, which he delayed publishing for many years, knowing that his ideas were radical and guaranteed to offend.

I was at the exhibition with a blogging friend, and we had been discussing the art (or is it the science?) of blogging and how it's common to hit a sticky patch: a lack of inspiration, or confidence, or even desire to persevere with it.

So we were heartened when we spotted this quote from one of Darwin's many letters home:
"One great source of perplexity to me is an utter ignorance whether I note the right facts, and whether they are of sufficient importance to interest others."

Bam! That hit the nail on the head for me. If Darwin felt himself inexperienced at times, and unsure whether his ideas would appeal to anyone else, he overcame it. Not a naturalist by formal training, he learned on the job - although he scarcely considered it a job as he was simply doing what fired and fascinated him. His hunger to learn and improve created a virtuous circle: "In one thing collecting I cannot go wrong," he wrote from Rio to a friend.

If he had lived in the era of blogging, he would have been incredible at it. As it was, he had the courage to keep writing, developing and publishing his radical work - and causing, not an evolution, but a revolution.

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