Darwin:

A play of two scenes based stylistically

upon Bertolt Brechtís Galileo

Katherine Rewinkel

CHARACTERS:

Charles Darwin, naturalist

Emma Darwin, wife of Charles

Anna Elizabeth Darwin, second-born child of Charles and Emma

Joseph Hooker, botanist and close friend of Darwin

Charles Lyell, geologist and friend of Darwin, reluctant convert

Thomas Henry Huxley, scientist and staunch defender of Darwin

SCENE A

Mid afternoon in the spring. In study at Down House, the Darwin Family residence, Joseph Hooker and Charles Lyell sit with Charles Darwin at a large oak table, pouring over sheets of colored drawings, surrounded by paper and books lying open.

HOOKER: And this one has the same coloring as the other one, but the beak is different. And they both bear only a passing resemblance to these others. Hooker lifts up a second sheet to hold it side by side with the one currently being examined. Look at the size of that oneís eye. It must be nearly twice the size of the eye of a normal finch.

DARWIN: Looking over at the page Hooker holds. Roughly twice, yes. How would you explain what you see here? How would you explain that all of these are classified as members of the same species, all are finches, and yet some look so visibly different that it seems almost as though they are not related at all?

HOOKER: I Ö I donít know.

DARWIN: Gesturing to two figures on the pages. If you saw birds like these two, each with the same body shape, both with the same dark orange and black plumage, but with two wholly different types of beaks, would you say they were related, children of the same parents?

LYELL: Staring at the pictures, eyes squinting, softly shaking his head from side to side. But what youíre suggesting canít be true.

DARWIN: Why couldnít these two types of finches have ancestors that were siblings? Perhaps this oneís hooked beak, which enables him to more easily catch the insects that are the staple of his diet, might have been an unusual trait, a variation within a species? A variation that allowed him to better compete with his siblings for food, and by better competing, better surviving? Reproducing and passing his hooked beak on to his children.

HOOKER: Setting down the papers and rubbing his eyes. Charles, you canít be serious.

DARWIN: They are members of two independent species. Two species of birds that had generations before developed, by whatever force, by whatever reason, different beaks for different purposes. This one, with the hooked beak, feeds on insects while this one, with the wider, larger beak, crunches large nuts, while this one, with a smaller, wedge shaped beak, feeds upon small nuts. What began as slight variations from a single type of finch became separate, independent species. Anna Elizabeth Darwin enters carrying a tea set on a tray, setting it on the end of the table closest to the door. She exits quietly but stands with the door slightly ajar, peeking in and listening to the conversation. Darwin stands up and crosses to the tea, pouring himself some before he continues speaking. But equally important, gentlemen, is that each of these finches were affected by their environments. The large seeds which support the big beaked birds are not found on the same island where the smaller beaked birds thrive, just as neither one survives well in the environment of the insect eater. How can this be other than that the conditions of life shape the creatures, favoring one variation over another, and over generations altering the physical appearance of the bird? Darwin has become increasingly excited and animated during his speech, with the climax coming as he puts down his tea and adds, This is Nature designing a new species.

LYELL: But, Charles, these types of birds weíre discussing lived on different islands, separated by a breadth of ocean. Do you expect us to believe that these separate types all came from a single bird? That children of this one bird, wherever it came from originally, flew to these different islands and then proceeded to change until they became independent species? Darwin paces at the head of the table. If God developed each creature, independently and perfect, suited for the environment into which they were placed, how could they be related? These birds could never have been related, or if they are, then how do you suggest they arrived on their separate islands? Genesis makes this impossible.

DARWIN: Darwin stops at the center and puts his hands on the table, bracing himself. Lyell, you are a geologist. You have upset what natural theologists of the previous generations assumed was true about the creation and development of the earth. You looked at the evidence around you and sought to explain these abnormalities, these pieces which did not fit within the framework of the knowledge you were taught. Open your eyes, stretch your mind.

HOOKER: Weíre trying to have open minds. But you must understand that this, what you are saying Ė Hooker pauses, momentarily lost for words.

LYELL: You are the first to say this. It is no easy task to be such a first, I know that. You say open my eyes. Fine. My eyes are open. Show me what it is you see.

DARWIN: Pause. Then walk to stand behind two seated men. Before you, there are many different types of finches that I observed on the course of my five-year journey aboard the HMS Beagle. During the voyage, as I was employed as a naturalist, I observed, recorded, and collected the wildlife and plants I encountered, describing and drawing them. When I returned to England, I was filled with knowledge, but above all, I was consumed by curiosity.

HOOKER: Ah, the fever that has driven many a man mad.

DARWIN: I wanted to know how this happened. Anyone will freely admit that these creatures are all incredible, beautiful, interesting, whatever. But I wanted to know how it came to be that certain species from different and distant islands resembled each other. Charles, I know Genesis as well as you do. I learned such things at Cambridge. But it was only out there, in the world, that I found something to feed my curiosity and something to lead me towards a truer vision of the natural world. We all know the flaws in our fields, the areas where things donít seem to fit.

LYELL: Increasingly skeptical, though not wholly hostile. And you believe that this selection, modification, adaptation, whatever you call it, this action of Nature holds the answer.

DARWIN: Yes.

EMMA DARWIN: From offstage. Annie, what are you doing? Annie, close that door and leave your father to his work. With a sigh, Anneís head disappears from view and the door shuts quietly.

HOOKER: Alright, Charles, explain.

DARWIN: Any variation that is beneficial to an animal will improve its ability to survive and pass such adaptations on to its offspring. This principle is one I refer to as Natural Selection. Sometimes, such variations, which are passed on to the offspring, may be chosen in other ways. In choosing a mate, a female will choose the male who will produce the best possible offspring. Sometimes the choice is made according to something like coloring Ė the brightest colored male uses his plumage as advertising. Sometimes it is the male that builds the best nest for his prospective mate. While Natural Selection revolves around survival, this type of selection is based on reproduction. This is Sexual Selection. In order for any variations to be passed on to the progeny, after all, reproduction must be ensured. Natural Selection only insures an individual survives. Sexual Selection insures that the traits of the parents are passed on to the children.

HOOKER: And how does this explain how these different species are all basically related?

DARWIN: Darwin pours tea with the addition of a nib of alcohol for the other two gentlemen as well as one for himself, carrying them to the two men, all of this being done during the first portion of his next speech. All these types of finches, for instance, were originally related, all having a common ancestor. Taking a pen from the table amongst the papers, he sketches something on a scrap before the three men. When the finches scattered amongst the islands and began to develop on their own, to evolve into their present forms, they branched off from the common ancestor. Shaped by the force of Nature, the finches became different species.

LYELL: So creatures evolve from each other. What happens to those that are replaced?

DARWIN: Perhaps these are your fossils, those creatures which you find littering your rocks, your layers, your strata of the sediment of time. Charles, these creatures may have modern-day versions they only slightly resemble, but the similarities mean they are related. At some point, for reasons unknown, the one version died and another, a sibling, better suited to the environment, shaped by Nature for survival, lived on.

LYELL: But what is this force? What is it that makes these things happen? You call it Nature, but what is it? Where is God?

DARWIN: I donít know. I havenít asked him to explain His creation to me. I have read what is written about it. I have studied the word, during school and on my own. I have looked at the world and all that He has placed here and this is what I have found. I donít know where God fits in here. But I know that, unlike any of the ideas we have been taught before, all of a sudden things make sense. With increasing excitement. Consider it. All of a sudden, creatures are related. Similarities we have noticed over a long period of time, the little things such as the colors of cardinals or the big things like the similarities of the bone structure of seemingly wholly unrelated creatures, all suddenly seem to fall into place. What were abnormalities before now fit neatly inside the structure of these theories. During this speech, Darwin has crossed to the window. Looking out, he continues. I donít know where God is. And at this stage, thatís a question that is unimportant to me. What does it matter if we lose some of our previous certainty about the world in exchange for a clearer and more accurate picture. We gain so much more with this than we lose. The possibilities. Think of it. Open your eyes and your mind and think about it. God, gentlemen, this changes the world.

HOOKER: Softly and with admiration. Yes, yes, it does. It changes everything.

LYELL: Also softly, but with a wrinkled brow and serious concern. It would revolutionize the world. It would threaten and probably topple the theories that now stand. Darwin stands at the window, Hooker stares into space, and Lyell looks at the pictures before him. There is a pause as the three sit in silence. And that is what Iím afraid of. You canít throw stones at the crystal ceiling of heaven without risking damage to yourself when the sky cracks, shatters, and falls down.

SCENE B

Evening in the late fall. Again in the study at Down House, the Darwin Family residence, this time with only Charles Darwin present, seated at a desk against one wall, writing some correspondence of sorts. The large table used in the previous scene remains, but is uncluttered and clear. Darwin writes and then reads what he has written, to himself.

DARWIN: You will be rather indignant at hearing that I am becoming skeptical on the permanent immutability of species: I groan when I make such a confession, for I shall have little sympathy from those, whose sympathy I alone value. -- But anyhow I feel sure that you will give me credit for not having come to so heterodox a conclusion, without much deliberation. What my work will turn out, I know not; but I do know that I have worked hard and honestly at my subject. Unseen by Darwin, Emma opens the door and enters. Charles stops writing and talks to the wall above his desk. The burden of proof rests with me, I know, not with my opposition. With a heavy sigh. How weary I am already of the controversy and how willing I am to leave it for others Ė younger, more passionate, and more willing to do battle for ideals.

EMMA: You are not that old, my dear. You have a visitor, Charles. Mr. Huxley.

DARWIN: You are certain?

EMMA: Thomas has been here before, Charles; I know him when I see him.

DARWIN: But just in case. I donít like being accosted or harassed and that last young man Ė

EMMA: Cutting Darwin off. Was a mistake. It was an accident. I had no idea that Hooker would bring him along. You know it was not my fault. Now wipe the ink off your hands and I will show Thomas in. Emma exits and Darwin continues to stare at the wall for a few minutes until Huxley is shown in and Emma closes the door behind her as she exits. Huxley clears his throat to attract Darwinís attention.

DARWIN: Ah, Thomas. Rising. It is great to see you again. How well you look. Fiery as ever, I imagine. The two gentlemen shake hands. Will you please take a seat?

HUXLEY: Thank you. There is a brief pause as neither says anything or makes eye contact with the other. I hope I did not interrupt you. Emma says that you are working hard on your next publication and I gather that you are busy with your continued observations as well.

DARWIN: Indeed. There is plenty to do, surprising to some people, I suppose, since to most it simply looks like an incredibly lazy life I lead.

HUXLEY: Perhaps, but certainly only by close comparison.

DARWIN: Another pause. Emma tells me that you have been hard at work with your debates and articles. Iím surprised you find time to do your own research with the schedule you keep defending mine. Uncomfortable laugh, an attempt at levity to ease the situation.

HUXLEY: Well, mine would not be possible if it werenít for yours. I mean, you must have seen some of the things that your detractors have written.

DARWIN: Yes, Emma showed them to me. She has taken to dealing with the mail that comes through. It only disappoints me to see the carrying on of the outside world. I have taken to not reading many of the scientific publications for just those reasons. A man wishes to be informed, but the bias and malice that seems to so poison the text makes it impossible to digest. I have seen the comics, however. I do find those amusing. Turning away from Huxley to face his desk. I have a file around here somewhere filled with themÖ His voice trails off and he returns his focus to Huxley.

HUXLEY: What would be the purpose of describing the similarities between the structures, the bones, the brains of creatures, simians and humans for instance, if such a link were considered wholly unacceptable theory in scientific discourse? Huxley seems to expect some sort of response from Darwin, but when he receives none, he becomes more frustrated. Charles, you knew this would happen. I warned you, if you recall.

DARWIN: I do not disagree with that. We knew this would happen. I somewhere knew that some would be so tied to their ideas, their studies, and their understanding of the world that they would be unable to see it in any way otherwise. But I would not change anything.

HUXLEY: Will you not appear at some point and speak on your own account?

DARWIN: Why should I?

HUXLEY: These are your ideas! This is your vision! These are your words!

DARWIN: I do not own them. I did not create them. I did not invent these things I describe. I merely recorded what I saw, what anyone could see, what everyone should see!

HUXLEY: Well, they donít. Donít misunderstand me, I accept my position. I embrace it. I live for this, this confrontation, this demonstration of ideas. The world changed when I read your Origin of Species because suddenly I found a way that everything fit together. I couldnít, I canít understand how people didnít see this before, why none of us had thought of this before. Standing up from where he had been sitting on a sofa or at the table, Huxley paces a little before the sofa or on the far side of the table from Darwin. Owen. Owen is my favorite. I have faced him and his followers, his students, his disciples, how many times? And yet, each and every time, it is the same battle, with the same stakes. But every time I manage to learn something new, in my research or in that of the others, every time I lecture and watch that wonderment dawn on some studentís face, it Ö you need to see it, Charles. Suddenly a little more awkward. I can take them on, but donít you owe it to everyone else to take a stand? To come out there and battle with us? Donít you need to bring the truth to the world yourself?

DARWIN: Stands up, annoyed. I have already brought my work to the world! I have published, I have written, I have responded. And now I wish to withdraw, not from the world, not to the neglect of what I have observed and sought to demonstrate, but from the pressure and the climate that I dislike. Why must everyone demand absolute truth? Why must I be there to continually open their eyes? How do you force someone to be curious? How do you cultivate such initiative and motivation to learn, to see, to examine, to explore?

HUXLEY: By example! You show that you donít run away and hide in the middle of the battle, that you donít leave your work to others and work along side those who have accepted the truth.

DARWIN: The truth again. Thomas, this is science, not a religion. We seek answers with proof, not theories based on faith. Once a theory is brought forth, it awaits proof. I have found my proof. I have observed. Why must I do the work? Isnít it indeed more important that blank spots be left? Isnít it important to encourage others to look for themselves? Why must I provide the answer before anyone is willing to make a choice? Why canít the masses, the students, the scientists take a step and search for themselves? Thomas, how can this be science, the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of what you term "truth" if everyone demands first that definitive proof be given? You are all just simply waiting for me or someone like me to bring you the answers wrapped up in brown paper. Isnít that it?

HUXLEY: Many just want the information, so that they can make an informed choice ---

DARWIN: Interrupting. Thatís precisely it! The jobs we have, you and I, Lyell, Hooker, and Gray, we all are trying to persuade everyone. Well, Thomas, I am tired. I am older. I have lost loved ones, I am doubting some things I believed to be truth. I too am waiting for answers. But if there is nothing else that I have learned from life, there is this: we all want the answers displayed before us, lined up like the goods at market, displayed before us on blankets and under tents, so that we can wander the aisles and pick out what it is that we want from all that lies before us. Life, science, these things are not like that. Reality is not like that. This is all too passive.

HUXLEY: It is not passive to take in all the available information and then make your own decision. It requires work, and wouldnít it be better to have someone reach his or her conclusion on his or her own?

DARWIN: Wouldnít it be better if they persuaded themselves based on the evidence of their own eyes rather than my words in a book? There is silence as the two men stand on either side of the table and look at each other across the distance.

HUXLEY: Quietly. Someday, Charles, someday soon they will see for themselves that Natural Selection, that Evolution is correct. The debate will be ended once men like Owen are no longer ranting and raving and poking holes in writings based solely on personal biases and nit-picking of linguistics.

DARWIN: Quietly. Thomas, just because my theories are accepted and supported does not mean the debate will be over.

HUXLEY: What is it you see? As if experiencing a sudden realization. Youíre a little afraid, arenít you, Charles?

DARWIN: You ask me as though I am a seer. I am a naturalist. I am a man. I am mortal. Sooner or later, you and I will be gone and all that will survive us will be words on a page. Donít you fear or at least consider what might be done with all you have created, when you are no longer here?

HUXLEY: And that is why you step back now. Because you are giving in early.

DARWIN: No, I step back now because my job is done. I have done what I needed to do, not what I necessarily wanted to do. I was not ready to put my name on that theory. I wanted more to be convinced. But I step back because I realize that there will never be enough to rule out all doubts. There will be the possibilities for applications beyond what we can see, with ramifications we cannot possibly anticipate.

HUXLEY: So we should give up and be hopeless.

DARWIN: No. Quietly. We should hope that man remains human. That some part of him retains those qualities which are most important Ė curiosity, openness, and hope. This is what I want to survive. As man evolves, I hope these are the things that remain with him. And mankind will continue to develop and adapt, Thomas, whether you and I are here to see it or govern it or not. I can remember the very spot on the road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me. Our legacy, Thomas. All we can really do, all that will last of us, is the hope that our curiosity is contagious. Because we are not immortal. Nature is. The process of evolution is. And our only saving grace is to hope that humanityís ability to reason and drive to understand will survive with us. That these will never die.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION

One of my primarily inspirations for this creative paper was Bertolt Brecht's play Galileo; I was previously familiar with both the playwright and the subject only in passing. After reading the play, I was struck by how Brecht put his own words in Galileo's mouth and portrayed the historical figure in a way that highlighted the themes that Brecht wished to address. As any Galileo scholar would probably say, Brecht's play is not notable for its historical and biographical accuracy. It is instead a play that is important for what it says and how it says it; this play addresses the responsibilities of scientists for their discoveries and their necessary participation in choosing applications for these discoveries. Later in this VAST course, when Darwin was discussed and his issues debated, both as they might have been at the time of Darwin and as they currently are in 2002, there were a number of issues and themes that I was interested in. In a PBS video on evolution and modern applications, the case of a group of high school students petitioning to have Intelligent Design included in their science curriculum featured many students saying they wanted all the information so that they could make an educated choice. I was annoyed and frustrated because what these students were really asking for was to have all the information brought to them, to remove from them the challenge of finding things out for themselves and then making an educated choice, based not on absorbed knowledge taken from what teachers fed them through textbooks and labs, but actual experience, the kind one can only get from exploring and independent thought.

Secondarily, during our discussion of Darwin, I wondered how Darwin felt, how Darwin would have reacted to the directions his theories were taken, the uses his ideas were put towards, the ways mankind has used such knowledge as an excuse for their misuse of each other. Darwin was dead by the time of Hitler and the concentration camp scientific experiments, but Darwin was still alive when Spencer took hold of Darwin's ideas and applied them to the poor, during the American Industrialization. Darwin would have heard and read what Spencer and his followers were advocating and the ways in which they used his ideas of evolution and survival of the fittest to support their notions of the nature of progress and their determination that involvement in the lives of the poor would be interfering with the forces of Nature, forces best left alone.

Unable to read all of Darwin's worksóscientific and autobiographical alikeóor all of the text written on Darwin as a man and the time in which he lived, I read what I could to give me a background to write this play. I traveled the Internet to find websites showing pictures of the Galapagos Island finches, so that I would have some idea of their coloring and differences. I used the valuable texts included in Applemanís anthology, to provide me with a connection to Darwin's works (through excerpts from not only The Origin of Species but also his journals from the HMS Beagle, other scientific writings, and his autobiography), those writings of Darwin's supporters and opponents (among them Thomas Henry Huxley, my personal favorite, and Richard Owen), those of his cultural contemporaries (Spencer), and recent responses to Darwin and Darwinian theories. For a complete listing, I have included a list of Works Cited and Consulted.

From inspiration to completion, I am also indebted to those whom I have spoken with, those who have read my play and discussed it with me, and those whose minds I have sounded and scoured for additional insight. These include Professor L. Walls, Writing Associate Zack Bittner, Bill Simmons, Rick El-Darwish, Rachel Eachus, Lis Dellinger, and "editor" Kris Rewinkel.

 

 

WORKS CITED AND CONSULTED

Appleman, Philip, ed. Darwin. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.

Appleman, Philip. "Darwin: On Changing the Mind." Appleman 3-13.

Bartleby.com. Books, quotations, and biographical information website. 2 and 15 May 2002 http://www.bartleby.com/224/0853.html.

Brecht, Bertolt. Galileo. Trans. Charles Laughton. Ed. Eric Bentley. New York: Grove Press, 1966.

Charles Darwin and the Galapagos. Website with information on Darwin's visit, observations, and theories. 7 and 15 May 2002. http://www.terindell.com/asylum/jason/darwin.html.

Evolution. Website to accompany PBS/WGBH/NOVA Science film series on Evolution. 2 and 15 May 2002. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/.

Galapagos Online. A website with pictures and descriptions of Darwin and various animal groups on the islands. 7 and 15 May 2002. http://www.galapagosonline.com/Galapagos_Natural_History/Birds_and_Animals/Birds/Darwins_Finches.html.

Hofstadter, Richard. "The Vogue of Spencer." Appleman 389-95.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. "Flora Tasmaniae." Appleman 276-80.

Huxley, Thomas Henry. "On the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals." Appleman 280-85.

Lyell, Charles. "Principles of Geology." Appleman 49-52.

Owen, Richard. "Darwin on the Origin of Species." Appleman 267-70.