1. Recording begins; audience takes seats
[Auditorium slowly fills up.]
Dr Durant: Okay, hello everybody, welcome. If I can encourage [you] people who are still coming in to take your seats… That would be great, and the little ring reminds me to ask everybody who has a cell phone to please turn it off. I’m also asked to please request that nobody take any photographs.
In case you didn’t realise, any of you, the whole of this evening’s event is being webcast live, so there’ll be no shortage of images, but the images will be on the Web and we’d rather not have photographs taken here, please.
Dr Durant (contd):My name’s John Durant. I’m the Director of the MIT Museum. It’s great to have you all here. I want to welcome you, also, on behalf of MIT’s Technology and Culture Forum, with which we’re partnering in a series of events of which this production is a part. Amy McCreath, our Episcopal Chaplain, is here in the audience. A special welcome to her, and to friends from the Forum.
I want to just tell you a little bit about how the evening is going to work, and then I’m going to introduce a friend and colleague from England.
The idea is that we’re going to see a one-act play (if you thought you were here for a debate or something else, you’re in the wrong place!) and after the play, we’re going to have a period of discussion of some of the issues that the play has raised. We’re going to be joined, I hope, up here by Craig Baxter, the author of the play, and by Professor Janet Browne, who’s a professor in the History of Science department at Harvard and an eminent scholar of things Darwinian. It’s entirely up to all of you how that discussion goes, so please keep in mind the question and discussion section at the end.
Now, a brief word about how this all came about. This is the week that includes Darwin’s birthday, the 12th of February – these days known increasingly as
Darwin day– and partly, though I’m not sure if it was intentional, but Alison will tell us, partly to coincide with that, there is currently running around New England a tour of a play based on some of Darwin’s correspondence, about which you’ll hear more later. The whole idea for the play is the idea of the Darwin Correspondence Project at Cambridge University Library in England, and in order to really tell you how this all came about, and just a little bit of the background as to what you’re going to see, I’m going to hand over to Alison Pearn from the Darwin Correspondence Project. Alison…
Dr Pearn: Thank you, John, for that introduction, and on behalf of my colleagues on the Darwin Correspondence Project in the other Cambridge – Cambridge, U.K. – I’d like to say thank you to John and to MIT for making this evening['s event] possible. It’s great to be here. Thanks to all of you for coming.
The Darwin Correspondence Project is an Anglo-American project. Most of us are based in the U.K., really because it is Cambridge University Library over there that holds the largest collection in the world of Darwin’s scientific papers and books. Our reason for existing is to locate, research and publish complete transcripts of all the letters that we can find, either written by or to Charles Darwin. So far, we’ve located around fourteen-and-a-half thousand, which he exchanged with close to two thousand correspondents. Those, today, are scattered around the world, including [at] many locations in the United States, including a very important collection here in the Gray Herbarium of Harvard. I’ll come to that again in a moment.
The dramatisation that you’re going to see tonight is our second collaboration with Craig Baxter. We’re very fortunate to have been able to work with him. We asked Craig to take something like three hundred or so letters and printed material. The letters are [mostly ones] exchanged between Darwin and Asa Gray, and Asa Gray was Professor of Botany in Harvard, so it’s a particular pleasure to be able to bring this here [to Cambridge, Massachusetts]; we really wanted to do this.
The dramatisation is part of a larger project for us on Darwin and religion. It’s funded by the John Templeton Foundation. We have sections on our website now on Darwin and belief, and also on design in nature. This dramatisation was a way of introducing people to some of the difficult questions raised by Darwin’s theories, questions that he and his correspondents – in particular, Asa Gray – discussed quite intimately through letters. So what you’re going to hear… are in the the nature of conversations between leading scientists at a crucial time in the history of ideas.
I think the main point that I need to make to you is that almost without exception, every word you are going to hear is actually a word written by one or other of the protagonists. This was the brief that we gave Craig. We did not allow him to create anything, we did not allow him to interpolate anything. So, apart from that, I think the piece speaks for itself, and I will now turn the stage over to Darwin and Asa Gray. Thank you.
4. Re:Design performance
[The official script for this version of Re:Design is available here.]
5. John Durant introduces panel discussion
Dr Durant: Well, I’m sure you’d all like to join me again in thanking first Paul Bourne who directed this play [Applause.], Terry Molloy and Patrick Morris who just so splendidly acted the play [Applause.]. and Craig Baxter who wrote it.
Now, as I said, what we’re going to do… I’m going to re-use some of the props and I’m going to ask Craig and Alison and Janet Browne if they’d like to join me up here and we’ll have a conversation about what you’ve just heard.
(Janet, please get the one that works… we’ve tried this before, some of these props are not too sturdy, actually. Yes, best MIT Victorian furniture, this! Absolutely…)
Now, I’m hoping that our friends, my colleagues in the museum, could arrange to put the lights up a little bit in the audience so that I can see, a bit more clearly, some of you.
We’re going to use mics, partly because that way you’ll all hear the questions and the answers – [The house lights come on.] oh, great – and also because if we don’t use mics, the people listening to this on the Web won’t hear a thing. So, there’s a simple rule, which I have to remember up here, to pass the mic to whoever’s speaking, and you need to just get my attention if you want to ask something, and wait for a hand mic to be given to you. So, now’s your chance. Please, what would anybody like to ask, or raise as a subject, about Re:Design? [Long silence.]Cor, I can’t believe it…
Please, yes. Just hang on a second.
6. Panel discussion: was Asa Gray’s relationship with Darwin unique?
Lady audience member: Well, thank you very much for a very educational presentation. I really enjoyed it.
If this correspondence had not been with Asa Gray about religion, is there someone else that Darwin could have corresponded with that would have brought religion to the foreground in the same way that this set of correspondence did? I think it’s kind of an interesting thing that, in a centennial year, that religion is being framed, and so I’m not sure if there’s someone else he could have been corresponding with that could have done this job as notably. Asa Gray has once again brought Darwin back into play in America.
Dr Durant: My colleagues are fighting over who shouldn’t get to respond, so I’m going to ask Janet Browne first and we can go back.
Prof Browne: It’s a wonderfully interesting question, which is why we’re both thinking hard here, on our feet. I think Darwin could have had such a conversation with [Thomas Henry] Huxley, but it would have taken a very different turn, and that Huxley, for all his very obvious commitment to agnosticism, was a really intense and interested thinker about theology, so that had Darwin… I think he [Darwin] and Gray, as you saw in this wonderful performance, generated a great deal of trust and confidence in each other and that allowed some of these ideas to be expressed. I’m never sure he had quite the same trust in Huxley. He was always a little apprehensive of Huxley’s severe critical intellect. So, I think I might want to go out on a limb and say this is unique.
Alison may want to say why it was chosen to be expressed in such a form in this forthcoming bicentenary year, but I think it’s very remarkable. And I find this play just wonderful. It really moves me, in lots of different ways, and it is a unique correspondence. But I won’t [continue]…
Dr Pearn: Yes, I think the fact that we did choose this correspondence with Gray in order to be part of the Darwin and religion resource that I mentioned, which is also a Web-based resource, is sort of evidence in itself that this was the correspondence where these subjects were discussed most fully. I think Darwin generally was reluctant to discuss his beliefs. He actually said in at least one letter that whatever he believed should not make a difference to what anybody else believed (he said his own personal beliefs should not) and he was wary in general, so I think Janet was quite right. It was the sense of trust and of friendship that must have been extremely important in that relationship.
Dr Durant: Just an observation: some of what we heard reminds me a little bit of some of the correspondence between Thomas Huxley and Charles Kingsley, especially around the subject of personal suffering at the loss of a child. Now, there’s lots and lots of differences between Huxley and Charles Kingsley and Darwin and Gray, but is there any merit in that comparison?
Prof Browne: John’s already described it, but there are some very moving letters between Huxley and Kingsley. When Huxley’s child dies, it’s Kingsley who pulls him back from the edge of despair. Kingsley, as you know, was a radical, but a very concerned vicar in Britain, and Huxley appears, rather like Darwin, to have taken the death of a child as a moment in which these individuals looked at their faith and found that they couldn’t believe quite in the way that was expected of them. It’s Kingsley who helps Huxley out of that situation, and Kingsley of course [remains] a believer; Huxley possibly not.
Dr Durant: Okay, we should make sure that others have a chance to ask as well, so unless… I don’t want to stop anybody speaking, but I saw another hand, did I, at the back? Several, actually. Right at the back and then… Oh no, it’s one of our graphic panels I’m looking at! Sorry, I’m inviting an exhibit to ask a question. Sorry, please…
7. Panel discussion: Darwin’s burial.
A second lady audience member: I just was wondering if there was sort of any outcry when Darwin died, for him, like, being buried in Westminster Abbey, with him being so, kind of, against religion.
Dr Durant: Isn’t that an interesting fact, that he was buried in Westminster Abbey? Janet, would you like to speak to that?
Prof Browne: We don’t know much about what was said in the public newspapers at that time against the burial. There was a tremendous reaction that Darwin, for all the controversy that surrounded his views, was nevertheless a very great figure, and so that this national accolade was entirely appropriate. We might want to look back on that and see what agendas were being fulfilled by Darwin being buried in Westminster Abbey. It’s often said, and is supported, I think, by the historical record, that the Royal Society figures, the scientists who knew Darwin very well, were extremely keen to get permission to have him buried in Westminster Abbey so that it was a sign that science was okay: science wasn’t atheistical; science was where Britain should be moving; the progress of Britain depended on proper science being performed. So, we – John knows more about the public press than I do, but… – we don’t know of very many underground revolts against this activity.
Dr Durant: I get the sense, from what I’ve read about the circumstances of Darwin’s burial, that one group of people who actually came close to revolt were actually Darwin’s family. There’s a sense in which the whole business of Darwin’s burial was taken out of the family’s hands in a rather abrupt way, but that’s not really what you were referring to, so…
Other questions? Questions, please, too, about the play. We’ve got the playwright here. What a frustrating thing for a playwright to have to use somebody else’s words entirely! I don’t know how that works, but anyway, please, yes…
8. Panel discussion: how was the correspondence transformed into this dramatisation?
Gentleman audience member Before the play, we were told that nearly all the words that the actors speak are from the letters themselves, so they’re either Darwin’s words or Asa Gray’s words, and so I’m wondering how… How much did you, sort of, shape the story from the letters, and how did you do that? And also, what’s the ethic of doing that? I mean, why is it important that they be only Darwin’s and Asa Gray’s words? And if that is important, how does shaping the story, changing the letters and sort of turning them into a narrative… how does that work?
Craig Baxter: Well, I suppose what I felt I needed to do was to tell the story that was there in the letters, and to look at the story first. And then [to] tell the story using the words, that was the second job. So it’s a creative editing job, really, rather than an authorial [one]. It’s very technical. Strangely, I’d not done anything like it before I did this work for the Darwin [Correspondence] Project, but it’s quite liberating in a way, because you see the story – it’s there before you – and you have your resource and you have your limits and you work within those, and that’s quite refreshing and liberating. But in order to tell the story, you have to cheat: with the chronology particularly (those words weren’t [all] written in the order in which you heard them today); some parts were actually written to other people, but they’re in the same [vein]. For example, Darwin’s joke about,
Was my nose designed…was actually [in] a letter to [Charles] Lyell, but seemed to be… a good joke, but also it seemed to be part of that [discussion]. He was saying similar things to several people at the same time.
The actual correspondence between Gray and Darwin had huge gaps in it. Not all the letters have survived. Also, there’s a lot of assumed knowledge between two correspondents: they’re not telling the whole story. So I had to tell the story for them, and I used the words of Gray and Darwin, but they weren’t always directed to each other, so there’s quite a lot of cheating. But the good thing about this project is that the scripts are available online and they’re footnoted, so you can actually see – you go to the Darwin [Correspondence] Project website – and you can see exactly where I’ve cheated. So, I feel it’s important to be open about that.
Has that answered his points?
9. Panel discussion: the conceptual connections revealed in the correspondence.
Dr Durant: Please, yes, Debra. I should say, Debra Wise is the [Artistic] Director of the Underground Railway Theater and involved in the Catalyst Collaborative which, for those of you who don’t know it, is an initiative here at MIT between the theatre arts (I’m sorry, I’m breaking my own rule [about using a microphone]) at MIT and the Underground Railway Theatre just here in Central Square to foster – guess what – drama with a science content. So Debra’s on home turf here. Debra…
Debra Wise: We really hope to host [Re:Design] at our new theatre, which hasn’t yet opened its doors. It’s wonderful that you came to Cambridge; I was so glad.
I wanted to say about the play that one of the things I really liked about it [was] – I don’t know how much cheating was required to do this, but – the way it revealed to us the connections between the thought about the progress or not of the human mind and spirit in relation to the abolitionism and the war in this country and the idea of intelligent design and the progress of human ideas and being able to understand or grasp and moor itself, and think in new ways. I thought that was really, really good, and really provocative. I just want to know what other people thought.
I thought about you [Craig] like a collagist, trying to place these things together so we sort of move into that territory and move out. It was very nice. It was so easy and nuanced it felt, really, like conversation. The actors, of course, did a great job too to make that possible. That was great.
Dr Durant:Thank you. Do you want to comment on that?
Craig Baxter: No. [Laughter.]
Dr Durant: Please, towards the back.
10. Panel discussion: the different theatrical props given to Gray and Darwin.
A second gentleman audience member: Thank you. I have a question regarding set design, which is – no pun intended there – I notice that on one side of the set you have Gray’s office set up and on the right you have more of a home setting for Darwin and I was curious if there’s something in the letters that inspired you to create such a rigid look for Gray versus Darwin’s, sort of, more home appeal, personal style.
Craig Baxter: The set design is down to Paul Bourne but I think his starting point for what he did there was the difference in their lifestyles. Gray was a professional man, professor of a busy department and had lots of administrative duties and lots of pressures on his time. Darwin was much more his own man. He was at home: that’s where he did his work. He had great problems with his health, so he couldn’t do a job. He worked at his own pace. He had time to do his own thing. So we wanted to make that contrast between the two. (He’s got a much more comfortable chair, I realise as well!) That’s probably necessary.
With any production, you’re trying to emphasise and draw out the differences that are there and that was why those decisions were made.
Prof Browne: Just a very brief remark further to what Craig’s saying, is that in the history of science sense, what we also have here is: two ways of doing science that were emerging in the middle years of the 19th century. Darwin did all his scientific research at home, both with practical experiments in and around the home and his gardens and so forth, and with letters from his study, so it’s a domestic science that he was pursuing, and that comes out very strongly in the books that he wrote.
In Gray we see the beginnings of professionalism. We represent it here, as indeed it was, very 19th century, but it was the beginning of university science.
Dr Durant: Thank you.
Prof Browne: One more thing. This is entirely a non-sequitur, but further to the set… We’ve had this performance before and we found people are longing to take away the letters around the edge, all these
wonderful facsimile letters. Which, please don’t!
Dr Durant They’re not actually, I believe, originals from the Darwin correspondence, but nevertheless they are needed, is the general thing I think we should be saying here, yes.
So, the person I saw first was in the front row here, and then there was another hand over here somewhere, number two. Please.
11. Panel discussion: Asa Gray’s character.
A third gentleman audience member: If Asa Gray were alive today, would he have appeared at the Dover trial? I ask this for two reasons. One: do you think – and I’d be just curious, I mean it seems fairly manifest to me – do you think that this pertains very directly to the issues which are under scrutiny under the name of intelligent design these days? That’s the first part. But also, was Gray the sort of person who went sailing into battle on behalf of causes he believed in and which were, nevertheless, strictly personal?
Dr Durant: I’ll say something about intelligent design but Janet and Alison may want to comment about Gray and whether he would have been comfortable charging into battle like that.
There are obvious resonances, and I’m assuming that was well known to our colleagues back in Cambridge [UK] in thinking about bringing this particular play here right now. It’s hard, isn’t it, sitting in the United States in 2008, to listen to this without being reminded of things going on all around us. Just one observation about that is: it seems to me that the biggest difference between what we saw portrayed here from the 19th century and what we’re living through now is not so much the intellectual content of the debate – which seems uncannily similar – it’s a difference in the spirit with which the debate is being conducted. The striking thing to me is that [in Darwin and Gray] you have two men who become increasingly, genuinely friendly and have warmer and warmer feelings to each other even as they’re basic differences on fundamental matters of philosophy and religion become clearer and clearer with the
passage of time. Now, I’m not interested in maligning anybody in the contemporary debates but it doesn’t feel like that, to me at least, as I watch what’s going on in the debates about intelligent design. There’s a lot…
Same audience member: No, malign them. [Laughter.]
Dr Durant: No. You can do it if you want. It is striking that you have a lot less generosity of spirit, shall we say, and sides seem to have been taken in a much more, sometimes, embittered way: caricatures being drawn. Your question about, ‘
Could Gray have gone to the Dover trial?’ is intriguing because in some ways, if you look at it purely in terms of what we’ve heard tonight, his repeated return to the notion that somewhere at the heart of all this there is design evidenced for all to see, you would feel, well, maybe he could. And yet at the same time he’s being generous to Darwin and saying we must allow natural history to explore the limits of its knowledge and its potential to help us understand these things. I get filled with a bit of regret when I watch this about what this has all turned into a hundred and fifty years later, to be honest.
Now, Gray: would he have gone to battle in a courtroom? I sort of somehow wonder if he might not. Alison?
Dr Pearn: Speaking from a perspective of a non-American…
Dr Durant: Well, there are several of them here! [Laughter.]
Dr Pearn: There are actually, yes.
Dr Durant: I’m rather embarassed about that.[More laughter.]
Dr Pearn: I think it’s very striking that Gray, as the dramatisation I think brings out, was very steadfast in his own personal position. Nevertheless, he was very, very important in spreading Darwin’s ideas, Darwin’s theories in the States, and he did that very consciously and very deliberately. It didn’t stop with his reviews of [On the] Origin [of Species]. He actually arranged for the American publication of Origin and was very energetic in helping Darwin to get [others] of his books published in the States as well. He actually dealt himself, personally, with the American publishers and he helped Darwin, too, when Darwin was working on what became [The] Expression of the Emotions [in Man and Animals], when he was actually dealing with man, which was more significant, really, than anything that was done in Origin.
Darwin drew up a questionnaire that he was having copied out by his wife and daughters, and it was Gray who actually first had it printed for him and disseminated. So he was a very active supporter of Darwin’s work.
Same audience member: And there were the big public debates with [Jean Louis Rodolphe] Agassiz as well, right? I mean, that is sailing into battle to some extent.
Dr Pearn: It certainly is, and I think… To bring this play over to the States and to have the Agassiz jokes appreciated is absolutely wonderful.
Dr Durant: Yep, the Agassiz laboratory isn’t so far from here, is it? Now, more points and questions from the floor. There was a hand here. Yes, please.
12. Panel discussion: the handwriting in the correspondence.
A third lady audience member: My question is more… It’s away from the theories of Gray, but I’ve worked with a lot of things so I know that handwriting can give you some pretty interesting details and I don’t… I haven’t looked that much at the handwriting of Gray and Darwin – a little bit of Gray – but how much did the handwriting shape, kind of, thoughts of how everything was put together? Did it at all? Maybe it didn’t, but I would imagine that over time as they became more friendly the handwriting itself might have changed, so I’m curious if that shaped the opinions.
What an interesting question, and that’s for both of these folk on
either side of me?
Same audience member: It’s for everyone, yeah.
Dr Pearn: Well, first of all, what the Darwin Correspondence Project does is remove everybody else’s need to look at the handwriting, because we publish transcripts, the great virtue of which is they’re searchable. We have not yet gone into digitisation, so you’ll just have to take my word for anything I say, pretty much…
I’m not conscious of ever having really thought in those ways about handwriting. The kind of thing we do pick up from the physical appearance of the letters… You can sometimes tell when Darwin or one of his correspondents is rushed, and we’re very careful to give information in our transcriptions about deletions and insertions and so on. There are sometimes drafts of letters, and they’re fascinating, because they really can let you into the thought process. I think at one point in the dramatisation Gray says,
I’m glad to see that you wrote in your own hand.If Darwin was ill, then his wife or daughters would act as his secretaries. Or again, if he was ill, he might write in pencil because you can’t actually write with a dip pen if you’re lying down. So there are things that we can tell from the physical appearance.
If you’re asking about character being revealed in handwriting, it’s not something that I’ve ever really considered, I don’t think. I don’t know whether Janet has.
Prof Browne: It’s never been the role of the editorial team to think too much about the character that’s being expressed in the handwriting. It take all of our days to decipher most of it. [Laughter.] But there are a couple of extraordinary letters which I think perhaps I might just mention to you. In the dramatisation you did hear about
Darwin being so very ill in the 1860s, and that’s a well-known aspect of his life. During that time there are some extraordinary, brief letters written to [Joseph Dalton] Hooker, one of his very close friends, and I think also to Gray, and the handwriting there is incredibly bad. It’s wide-spaced; it’s big, open writing, and it’s just a line saying,
My dear Hooker, I must just write this… Your friend, C. Darwin.There are one or two like that. They’re very unusual in the whole fourteen thousand that we have.
Prof Durant: Thank you. Please, yes, right here, and then there.
13. Panel discussion: was Darwin intended to look older than Gray?
A fourth lady audience member: I just wondered… It seems the two men are contemporaries: there’s only one year difference in their age, but Darwin is played by a much older man; Asa Gray seems younger. I wonder: was that by design or just… happened to be?
Dr Durant: How were the actors chosen with respect to age?
Craig Baxter: It wasn’t a conscious decision. There’s a popular conception of Darwin and I suppose that is of quite an old man with a big bushy beard, isn’t it, and Terry’s beard is quite short, so we thought that was kind of capturing his younger years as well, but… No, it wasn’t a conscious decision. The characters kind of arrive of the page and they sort of have an age. I guess maybe because Darwin is talking about his health and his bad health a lot, you sense that that ages him and his behaviour: because he’s suffering with his health in a way that Gray wasn’t. So, I suppose that’s the only explanation I can offer. Again, it’s another question that wasn’t a conscious decision to cast different aged actors, no.
Dr Durant: John, please: microphone over there. Thanks.
14. Panel discussion: Gray as an activist; and an announcement about Kenneth Raymond Miller.
A fourth gentleman audience member: First, I loved it, the play. I also found this exchange, some of these discussions, extremely interesting. Somebody mentioned – Janet mentioned – that Gray was a professional, a professional from Harvard: he had all the stuff, and he certainly describes himself as a professional. But I am pretty sure that he was the person who led the scientific fight to declare the sequoias the first national preserve, which was a very political fight in the California state legislature and then the first [such] legistlation in the United States. So really, he was one of the first examples, I suddenly realise, of the public intellectual; of the scientist as speaking to the lay community, which Darwin didn’t. So Gray didn’t describe himself that way, but he actually played that role in the debates [with] Agassiz. I mean, he actually stepped out.
Now, while I have the mic, and apropros of that question, next Thursday at 4pm in this exact place, Ken Miller from Brown, the professor of biology who was the lead witness at Dover, Pennsylvania, will be here telling the story of participating in that trial. I’ve heard him talk and it’s a fascinating tale, so I recommend it. It’s not thatre, but it’s the closest thing to it.
Dr Durant: It’s not theatre, but it’s about a piece of theatre, namely a court trial. Yes, I should have mentioned that. That’s a good opportunity and you’re very welcome to come back and hear that. He didn’t quite play the same role as Asa Gray might have played, but on the other hand, for those who don’t know him, he’s an academic biologist who’s also a practising Roman Catholic, so he has very great interest in the issues
that we say described tonight.
Do you want to comment about Gray’s work, Janet, in conservation and so on?
Prof Browne: No, I actually don’t know enough, really.
Dr Durant: No? Okay, fine. Please, any more questions? Yes, Owen, microphone please.
15. Panel discussion: were Darwin and Gray ever photographed together?
A fifth gentleman audience member: This is just a minor curiosity, but those pictures that were taken during the play… Was that last pairing… Do you have actual pictures of Asa Gray and Darwin, surviving?
Craig Baxter: Theatrical license, I’m afraid. [Laughter.] I felt it was important that we see the fact that they meet. They’ve corresponded for years; they did meet early on before they were friends; but that [last] meeting, I felt that was very powerful emotionally for the story. But of course, they didn’t write letters when they were with each other, so it’s a technical problem: how do we have a scene? I tried very hard to carve out realistic dialogue from the letters and I just couldn’t do it, it just didn’t work, so that was our solution.
The same audience member: It was splendid; I’m sorry I asked the question! [Laughter.]
Baxter: Yes, but it’s important to appreciate that there are theatrical pressures as well as [historical] pressures. And I think Darwin was quite reluctant to have his photograph – is that right? – taken with other people, perhaps because of his health, and it’s quite a protracted and difficult process in those times.
16. Panel discussion: set design and the
Dr Durant: There’s room for one more question, I think, and we probably need to stop, but I just had suddenly thought of a question myself, which is about the theatre. We had Darwin walking quite a bit – across the correspondence, rather puzzlingly – but of course, he’s famous for having taken his
sandwalks, and I just wonder: was that in the back of people’s minds when you had him, as it were, perambulating from time to time?
Craig Baxter: Yep. [Laughter.]
Dr Pearn: I should have mentioned that there is a longer version, actually, of this script. Poor Craig’s had to do this several times for us; we’re so demanding. And there is a full theatrical version in which we have a sandwalk…
Dr Durant: Oh, right.
Dr Pearn: … and a lot of letters, which are part of the scenery. So, I think this is actually a rather economical way of…
Dr Durant: The best the MIT Museum can do by way of sandwalk.
Dr Pearn: I think it’s brilliant.
Dr Durant: One more question from you all, then, please, if there is one, and then I think we probably need to let our friends go home. Is there another question? Please, right in the front.
17. Panel discussion: Emma Darwin’s beliefs.
A fifth lady audience member: Hi, I was just wondering if there was anything that was known about Emma Wedgwood‘s beliefs and standings?
Dr Pearn: That’s a very interesting question and I’m sure Janet may want to add something to this too, but I’ve mentioned our website several times and we have just recently, on the Darwin Correspondence Project website, put up a section about Darwin and belief, where we have been able to draw on previously unknown – or known only to the family – material about the relationship between Charles and Emma, and about Emma Darwin’s beliefs. We were allowed to look at that material because the members of the family felt that she had been, perhaps, wrongly portrayed as having held her husband back in terms of his own statement of his views; and [also felt] that the complexity of her own beliefs was not being properly understood. So, I think the best thing I can do is say: have a look at what we’ve got on the website. We’re hoping to expand that. Some of the material is quite difficult to work with. So, a very interesting question.
When you say it’s difficult to work with, do you mean hard to decipher
Dr Pearn: It’s hard to decipher. Unfortunately, some of it is now only available to us as rather poor photocopies of marginal notes that she made in a bible, and there are some marginal notes by Charles as well, but this is material that we’re only just beginning to explore. We’re very fortunate to have it. I should say, in fact – I think Janet will agree with me in his – the Darwin family, the extended Darwin family, have been extremely generous in general in making material available. Many of the letters that we work with belong to members of the Darwin family, but they’ve always made them accessible to scholars.
Dr Durant: Janet.
Prof Browne: Well, that’s a great way to finish: what Alison’s just said was a great way to finish our discussion, but to repeat something of what she’s said, Emma Darwin has been a figure that people have found quite easy to caricature, so that it may well have been a handy device to have Emma represent the theological opposition to his views, so that one finds in older studies (and certainly not on the website of the Darwin Correspondence [Project]), one finds the suggestion that she did hold him back, and I think the correspondence is truly showing that that’s not the case.
18. Dr Durant’s closing remarks.
Dr Durant: Well, I think you’ll agree we’ve been doubly fortunate. I think we’ve been first fortunate that the project in Cambridge was able to organise this tour of New England and that they came here. And we’re also fortunate we could have the support of so many colleagues, particularly Janet Browne from Harvard’s History of Science department. So, thanks to the team, thanks to the actors, thanks to all of you for coming, and keep following! [Applause.]
There’s another performance on Saturday afternoon, so if you have friends who couldn’t make it tonight, tell them about it.