Even Darwin Could Be a Debbie Downer

A few bouts of angst written by Darwin reveal that no one is immune to the blues

National Portrait Gallery, London

Even geniuses have bad days. So reveal a few jewels penned by Darwin and uncovered by NPR’s Robert Krulwich. Written on Oct 1, 1861, amidst the height of Darwin’s post-On the Origins of Species success and fame, these snippets show that no one is immune to the blues.

Writing to his friend Charles Lyell, Darwin complained, “I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.” Ouch.

He goes on: “I am going to write a little Book for Murray on orchids, and today I hate them worse than everything.”

Krulwich is in awe:

Who knew that minds of the first rank wake up some days feeling like they belong in a sewer? In his short biography of Darwin, David Quammen writes that he was “nerdy, systematic, prone to anxiety.” He was not quick, witty, or social. He spent decades working out his ideas, slowly, mostly by himself, writing letters and tending to a weak heart and a constantly upset stomach. He was a Slow Processor, who soaked in the data, thought, stared, tried to make sense of what he was seeing, hoping for a breakthrough. All around were snappier brains, busy being dazzling, but not Darwin’s, which just plodded on until it finally saw something special, hiding in plain view.

But most days, I guess, were hard. “One lives only to make blunders,” he writes here to Lyell.

As Krulwich points out, we can all empathize with Darwin’s angst, and at the same time take solace knowing that no person is exempt from such jolts of doubt and anguish, even the geniuses.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Life of Charles Darwin
Out of Darwin’s Shadow

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