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Authors: Deborah Heiligman

Charles and Emma

BOOK: Charles and Emma
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The Darwins' Leap of Faith





Henry Holt and Company

New York



To my constant Companion



Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Publishers since 1866
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10010

Henry Holt® is a registered trademark of Henry Holt and
Company, LLC.
Copyright © 2009 by Deborah Heiligman
All rights reserved.
Distributed in Canada by H. B. Fenn and Company Ltd.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Heiligman, Deborah.
Charles and Emma : the Darwins' leap of faith / Deborah
Heiligman.—1st ed.
p.         cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4299-3495-4 / ISBN-10: 978-0-8050-8721-4
1. Darwin, Charles, 1809—1882—Juvenile literature.   2. Darwin, Emma
Wedgwood, 1808—1896—Juvenile literature.   3. Naturalists—
England—Biography—Juvenile literature.   I. Title
QH31.D2H42 2008   576.8'2092—dc22     2008026091

First Edition—2009 / Designed by Elynn Cohen
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper. ∞

1   3   5   7   9   10   8   6   4   2





Chapter 1            Better Than a Dog


Chapter 2            Rat Catching


Chapter 3            Conceal Your Doubts


Chapter 4            Where Doors and Windows Stand Open


Chapter 5            Little Miss Slip-Slop


Chapter 6            The Next World


Chapter 7            The Sensation of Fear


Chapter 8            A Leap


Chapter 9            A Busy Man


Chapter 10          Melancholy Thoughts


Chapter 11          A Whirl of Noise and Motion


Chapter 12          Heavy Baggage, Blazing Fires


Chapter 13          Definition of Happiness


Chapter 14          Pregnant Thoughts


Chapter 15          Little Animalcules


Chapter 16          Down in the Country


Chapter 17          Sudden Deaths


Chapter 18          Barnacles and Babies


Chapter 19          Doing Custards


Chapter 20          A Fretful Child


Chapter 21          God Only Knows the Issue


Chapter 22          A Dear and Good Child


Chapter 23          Against the Rules


Chapter 24          Terrible Suffering


Chapter 25          The Origins of
The Origin


Chapter 26          Dependent on Each Other in So Complex a Manner


Chapter 27          What the Lord Hath Delivered


Chapter 28          Feeling, Not Reasoning


Chapter 29          Such a Noise


Chapter 30          Mere Trickery


Chapter 31          Warmth to the End


Chapter 32          Happy Is the Man


Chapter 33          Unasked Questions


Epilogue              So Much to Worship




Family Tree


Source Notes


Selected Bibliography




Square Fish




Readers' Theater compiled from passages of Charles and Emma




he story of Charles Darwin has never been told this way before.

Authors by the hundreds have written about Darwin's genius and the way his ideas transformed the world. Scholars by the thousands have described the adventures that made him famous: first, his voyage around the world as a young naturalist aboard the HMS
and, second, his discovery of the vast, novel, and strange intellectual territory that he mapped in his masterpiece,
The Origin of Species.

Those two stories are among our civilization's most celebrated eureka moments. But as far as I know, this is the first book to focus on the adventure that began when Darwin, home from his voyage, took out a piece of scrap paper and made himself a quirky, funny, very candid list of the pros and cons of settling down.

Charles Darwin's search for a woman to marry led him almost immediately to a private eureka moment, when he visited his aunt and uncle at Maer Hall, in Staffordshire, and sat down by a fire in the library to have a little chat (they called it “a goose”) with his cousin Emma Wedgwood.

In that time and place, marriage between cousins was not at all unusual, and everyone thought Charles and Emma were a good match. There was only one problem, one obstacle to their happiness: Emma was religious. She cared deeply about her Christian faith. When Charles confessed to her the revolutionary ideas that he was scribbling in his secret notebooks, she felt frightened. Emma thought they would be parted by death forever, go separate ways in eternity, because she would go to heaven and Charles would go to hell.

How Charles and Emma struggled with this dilemma and made a successful marriage of science and religion is the story told in this book. Reading it helps us understand in the most vivid, intimate, and personal way how shocking Darwin's ideas were for the people of his time, including some of the people who were closest to him. It helps us see why he felt he had to keep his ideas to himself for so long, writing
on the covers of the journals and notebooks in which he scribbled furiously during the months and years after the voyage of the
The ideas in Charles's notebooks seemed revolutionary and dangerous, not only to many of the people around him in nineteenth-century England but to the woman he loved more than anyone in the world. We can understand better why he spent twenty years refining and polishing his theory before he dared, with dread and misgivings, to publish
The Origin of Species.

So often the scientific and the religious views of life are seen as two separate worlds. As enemies. And in a sense you might say that Charles and Emma Darwin were each sleeping with the enemy. But they were not enemies. They were the best of friends, and their story is an inspiration. They had ten children. They lost three. One of those deaths was so tragic and terrible that Charles and Emma could hardly bear to talk
about it for the rest of their lives. The problem of faith and religion and the afterlife in some ways only grew larger as they confronted those tragedies and faced the chasm at the end of life. And yet together they triumphed.

Darwin's revolutionary ideas have become so established now that biologists cannot imagine life without them. But those same ideas still have the power to frighten and disturb many devout people. The ability of Charles and Emma to go beyond those differences—to love each other in spite of them—is an inspiring story for our time.

Because the love story of Charles and Emma has not been told before at full length, even old Darwin fans will find much here to enjoy. Consider the last paragraph of
The Origin of Species,
one of the most famous passages in science. There Darwin sums up his whole view of life by talking about an entangled bank. I never knew until I read this book that this was a bank that Charles and Emma often saw on their walks from Down House, their home in the country. Charles and Emma were entangled in their love and science, just as mind, heart, and spirit are entangled in each one of us.

Charles and Emma,
one feels that their love story was one of the most significant adventures and greatest masterpieces of Darwin's life.


Pulitzer prize-winning

author of
The Beak of the Finch



In her presence he found his happiness,
and through her, his life.


Chapter 1

Better Than a Dog


Why, the shape of his head is quite altered.

. R



n the summer of 1838, in his rented rooms on Great Marlborough Street, London, Charles Darwin drew a line down the middle of a piece of scrap paper. He had been back in England for almost two years, after a monumental voyage around the world. He was in his late twenties. It was time to decide. Across the top of the left-hand side, he wrote
On the right he wrote
Not Marry.
And in the middle:
This is the Question.

It was easy for Charles to think of things to write under
Not Marry.

“Freedom to go where one liked,” he began. Charles loved to travel. His voyage had lasted almost five years; he had been the naturalist on the HMS
a British surveying ship. He was horribly seasick while on board, but he spent as much time as he could on land, exploring on horseback and on
foot, and collecting thousands of specimens, from corals in the Cocos-Keeling Islands of the Indian Ocean to beetles in Australia to a fox in Chiloé Island, Chile. He now lived in London with his servant from the
Syms Covington, “Fiddler and Boy to the Poop Cabin.” Charles had taught Syms to shoot and skin birds and to help him list and catalogue the specimens. Now Charles and Syms were surrounded by neatly stacked wooden crates, casks, and barrels filled with many of their treasures from Patagonia, Brazil, Chile, and Tierra del Fuego: fossil bones, skins, shells, fish preserved in spirits of wine, mammalia in spirits of wine, insects, reptiles and birds in spirits of wine, plants, rocks, carcasses of dead animals, and beetles. What if Charles wanted to go on another adventure and collect more specimens? How could he do that if he got married?

BOOK: Charles and Emma
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