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Darwin Correspondence Project

Darwin's bad days

Despite being a prolific worker who had many successes with his scientific theorising and experimenting, even Darwin had some bad days. These times when nothing appeared to be going right are well illustrated by the following quotations from his letters:

But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.— I am going to write a little Book for Murray on orchids & today I hate them worse than everything so farewell & in a sweet frame of mind, I am | Ever yours | C. Darwin
Letter to Charles Lyell, 1 October [1861]
I am rather low today about all my experiments,—everything has been going wrong—the fan-tails have picked the feathers out of the Pouters in their Journey home—the fish at the Zoological Gardens after eating seeds would spit them all out again— Seeds will sink in salt-water—all nature is perverse & will not do as I wish it, & just at present I wish I had the old Barnacles to work at & nothing new.—
Letter to W. D. Fox, 7 May [1855]
I am glad you were at the Messiah: it is the one thing that I shd like to hear again, but I daresay I shd find my soul too dried up to appreciate it, as in old days; & then I shd feel very flat, for it is a horrid bore to feel, as I constantly do, that I am a withered leaf for every subject except science. It sometimes makes me hate science, though God knows I ought to be thankful for such a perennial interest which makes me forget for some hours every day my accursed stomach.—
Letter to J. D. Hooker, 17 [June 1868]
I am very tired, very stomachy & hate nearly the whole world. so good night, & take care of your digestion which means Brain—
Letter to T. H. Huxley, 10 September [1860]
I beg a million pardons. Abuse me to any degree but forgive me— it is all an illusion (but almost excusable) about the Bees. I do so hope that you have not wasted any time for my stupid blunder.— I hate myself I hate clover & I hate Bees—
Letter to John Lubbock, [3 September 1862]
I am at work on the second vol. of the Cirripedia, of which creatures I am wonderfully tired: I hate a Barnacle as no man ever did before, not even a Sailor in a slow-sailing ship. My first vol. is out: the only part worth looking at is on the sexes of Ibla & Scalpellum; I hope by next summer to have done with my tedious work.
Letter to W. D. Fox, 24 [October 1852]
Mamma is in bed with bad Headach.— Miss. L. is very bad with headach.— Lenny has got a slight headach.— I am not very bright— The day is raining torrents, the children are ennuied—so I have not heart to write—
Letter to W. E. Darwin, 30 November [1861]
Here are a few more of Darwin's worst days that he reported to his daughter Henrietta, and his close friends Joseph Dalton Hooker, Asa Gray and Charles Lyell:
He described the problems with the fish-feeding experiment mentioned in the quote from the letter to William Darwin Fox above in more detail to Hooker:
Everything has been going wrong with me lately; the fish at the Zoolog. Soc. ate up lots of soaked seeds, & in imagination they had in my mind been swallowed, fish & all, by a heron, had been carried a hundred miles, been voided on the banks of some other lake & germinated splendidly,—when lo & behold, the fish ejected vehemently, & with disgust equal to my own, all the seeds from their mouths.
 While working on Natural selection, the unpublished precursor to Origin, he wrote twice again to Hooker about difficult times:
I have been making some calculations about varieties &c. & talking yesterday with Lubbock, he has pointed out to me the grossest blunder which I have made in principle, & which entails 2 or 3 weeks lost work; & I am at a dead lock till I have these Books to go over again, & see what the result of calculation on right principle is.— I am the most miserable, bemuddled, stupid Dog in all England, & am ready to cry at vexation at my blindness & presumption. 
The work has been turning out badly for me this morning & I am sick at heart & oh my God how I do hate species & varieties.
When Darwin learned that the paper he had published in 1839 on the parallel roads of Glen Roy contained faulty scientific methodology, he wrote to the geologist Charles Lyell:
I am smashed to atoms about Glen Roy. My paper was one long gigantic blunder from beginning to end.
While writing Expression of emotions and sending a chapter to his daughter Henrietta to correct and improve his style, he lamented:

I shall send off today or on Monday, registered, the M.S. on the use of the Voice for Expression. It is an extremely poor affair, but I must say something, & have nothing worth saying. I have no copy of the M.S. so please lock it up carefully, for I hate it to that extent that it wd. break my heart to write it again.

Letter to H. E. Litchfield, 2 December [1871] 

Finally, Darwin often complained about stopping work especially when he was forced to take a holiday or had no project to work on:

My wife takes me on Friday as an abject prisoner to London for a month & I do hate stopping work.— I am just like the retired tallow-chandler
I am rather despondent about myself, & my troubles are of an exactly opposite nature to yours, for idleness is downright misery to me, as I find here, as I cannot forget my discomfort for an hour. I have not the heart or strength at my age to begin any investigation, lasting years, which is the only thing, which I enjoy, & I have no little jobs which I can do.— So I must look forward to Down grave-yard, as the sweetest place on this earth.—