Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Would Darwin's Dog Have Blogged?

"I never knew such a methodical dog. She sits on the mat when we go to lunch, to wait for her dinner, and on the rug in the chair by the stove when we go into dinner."

These words struck a chord with me because, gender apart, they could have been written about my dear wee Hamish, who was also much very much a creature of habit. In fact, the description comes from a letter written around 1880 by Emma Darwin, the wife of Charles Darwin, and they refer to Polly, the family terrier.

Charles Darwin died on 18th April 1882. Polly survived her master by only a few days. Darwin is reported* to have been "terribly fond of Polly and taught her to catch biscuits off her nose, and she sat with him patiently while he spent quiet hours working in his study".

Few great scientists come over as such likable human beings as Charles Darwin. Not only was he a devoted and loving father to his ten children, but throughout his life, he owned and adored a series of dogs. Spark, a nine year old black and white mongrel, provided solace to the nine year old Charles after the boy's mother died, and from then onwards Darwin's correspondence was peppered with references to his beloved pets, full of tenderness and amusement at their antics, and news of any accidents they suffered was reported with the same importance as a family wedding or a new baby. Had he been born two centuries later, who knows, might there even have been a Darwin's Dog Blog??

Back to Polly, the final and favourite dog. Here's what Francis Darwin had to say in a memoir about his father:

"He was delightful and tender to Polly, and never showed any impatience at the attentions she required, such as to be let in at the door, or out at the verandah window to bark at "naughty people", a self-imposed duty she much enjoyed".

The loving bond Darwin's evidently enjoyed with 'man's best friend' surely strengthened his belief that there was no shame in the notion of humans and animals sharing a common ancestry.

Dog lovers, we are in good company!

* from the book 'Darwin's Dogs: How Darwin's pets helped form a world-changing theory of evolution', by Emma Townshend.


TwoSpecialWires said...

As of moments after reading your post, Townshend's new book is now in transit for us ... straight from the University of Colorado library. (Interesting that it is not (yet) shelved in local libraries.) There is so much to learn. From science. From art. And, perhaps most importantly, from relationships. Thank you for introducing us to this new inspiration.

Jake and Fergi and Sally xxxooo

MAX said...

"My greatest challenge in life is to be as wonderful as my dog thinks I am!" ('unknown')

I know this is not directly relevant to your post, but it's posts like this one that allows one to think in all sorts of directions. (something I appreciate!)I like to think that maybe Darwin felt this too...who knows!?
Sending lots of love and licks to you...
(I'm not a scientist, but I am a humanist!)

The Rocky Creek Scotties said...

How interesting to separate Darwin the scientist from Darwin the man. I think I must read the book.

Wee Hamish was quite the hit with the ladies from the Scottish Terrier Club who visited today.

The Rocky Creek Scotties

Stella said...

The other night I watched a program on National Geo, where a team of scientists, headed by Dr. Joy Riedenberg, dismantled a dead whale. Dr. R. was especially happy to find the larynx since she is interested in how they speak, and also hind leg bones! Whales once lived on land with a near relative in the Hippo, and now its hind leg bone is tucked up inside the beast!
What a time to be a scientist today!

I'll want to read the Darwin book too and will see if my library system has it somewhere.

Jo (and Stella who is mad at me for clipping her nails!)

houndstooth said...

Wow! I hadn't heard this about Darwin before, but what cool information! I really enjoyed this one!

Benny and Lily said...

thats pretty cool...
Benny & Lily

Khyra The Siberian Husky And Sometimes Her Mom said...

Maybe we would have opposable thumbs by now had we started blogging sooner!

Khyra & Khousin Merdie

Martha and Bailey said...

I had no idea Darwin had ten childen or a dog! Somehow both make him more of an ordinary human being - sometimes great scientists seem distant from the rest of us.
Anyone who has to do their work whilst still getting up to let the dog out is OK in my book.
Thinking about it he probably enjoyed the simple everyday routines of having a dog. Thank goodness he had a wife to tell us about this other side of the man.
V x

Jake of Florida said...

I'm picturing Darwin doing what we all love to do: sit in quiet moments and watch what our dogs do to amuse themselves. I sometimes find it hard to find those moments -- as I imagine he did -- especially with all those children. But when I do and just watch our pups' choices, I feel so much happier that we share our world with them.

(And oh yes, we too deal with the "If we didn't have dogs, think of all the things we could do." Sure!!)

Your first posts have been wonderful.I'm so glad to have found you again.

Joan, by permission of the Barkalot Boyz

Madi and Mom said...

Hi Gail....we only found you and Hamish a few weeks before he passed. I read all the lovely tributes to him what a precious soul he had. My blog is mostly about Madi my Diva cat. Every so often I throw in facts about NC and random trivia. We glad to find you back blogging. We listened to the service center phone call that is hilarious. We will keep up with you as your new journey begins and look forward to where it will lead you and to whom?
Madi and Mom

emmat said...

Thanks for alerting some new readers to my book! I so enjoyed researching it, because reading about such a good scientist observing dogs was always fun. With many thanks, and good wishes to you, Emma