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January 26, 2007

Darwin's Regret

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Art, beauty, feeling, sensation ... Curlicues on the fringes of reality, or central to the fabric of existence? And what did the original evo-guy make of them anyway? Here's a passage from Charles Darwin:

Up to the age of 30, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds gave me great pleasure. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry. I have also almost lost my taste for picture or music. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts.

If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

I found this thanks to Poynter Online's Monique Von Dusseldorp.



posted by Michael at January 26, 2007


I say that if you want to read poetry, look at art, listen to music...great. And if you don't...also great. The notion that culture should be ingested for the purpose of self-improvement is wrong, wrong, WRONG!

Posted by: ricpic on January 26, 2007 4:24 PM

Sounds like he OD'd on the Industrial Revolution.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on January 26, 2007 4:49 PM

I must say that I sympathize with Mr. Darwin. For twenty years I've had to process a lot of information for my business, and it has changed my mental processes. I think I've either got a lot better at picking out significant patterns from large piles of data, or I've gotten a lot more motivated at doing so. But this has come at a cost; if I pick up a copy of Us Magazine, I find that I'm even trying to make some larger sense out of the nonsensical doings of the celebrities it covers. I've largely stopped reading fiction; my real pleasure comes out of reading thick tomes of history. At times, I find it very difficult to mentally relax; if I'm not using my mental millstones to grind data, I get rather irritable.

It all makes me wonder what retirement will be like.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 27, 2007 1:51 AM

So I was reading this Victorian self-help book the other day? (Don't ask.) And he says the best way to get a hold on your time is to read for 90 minutes every other day, and he recommends poetry. Why poetry? Because:

Imaginative poetry produces a far greater mental strain than novels. It produces probably the severest strain of any form of literature. It is the highest form of literature. It yields the highest form of pleasure, and teaches the highest form of wisdom. In a word, there is nothing to compare with it. I say this with sad consciousness of the fact that the majority of people do not read poetry.

I am persuaded that many excellent persons, if they were confronted with the alternatives of reading "Paradise Lost" and going round Trafalgar Square at noonday on their knees in sack-cloth, would choose the ordeal of public ridicule. Still, I will never cease advising my friends and enemies to read poetry before anything.

He also says you should read Marcus Aurelius for half an hour each morning. Self-help books sure have changed...

Posted by: Brian on January 27, 2007 9:25 AM

Once upon a time I was able to write poetry half a milimeter above mediocrity -- well, okay enough that my college Freshman English teacher had one of mine included in a mimeographed departmental lit publication. Alas, I could never really bear reading the stuff. Partly sloth, partly my impatient tremperament that keeps me away from puzzles of almost any kind.

So it has always puzzled (heh!) me a little when I read about British officers carrying poetry books on Northwest Frontier patrols or into Great War trenches.

If I'm this bad regarding poetry, what about the later generations with SesameStreet fueld attention spans?

And Friedrich -- If you're not utterly possessed by your business, you ought to be able to adjust to retirement just fine.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 27, 2007 12:40 PM

I left (High) school a very literate laddie, but a Chemical Education soon put paid to that.

Posted by: dearieme on January 27, 2007 1:12 PM

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