When descendants of Charles Darwin get together, some still tell the story of a long-ago servant who expressed pity for the family patriarch. The poor man, she said, was so idle that she saw him staring at an ant heap for a whole hour. Darwin's full-time, self-created job, of course, was to observe every animate creature, from the ants and bees in his garden, to giant tortoises in the Gal¿pagos, to his own family. He even published a monograph on the behavior of his infant children.
Randal Keynes, a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin (and also a descendant of John Maynard Keynes), has crafted a superb intellectual and social history about Darwin's quiet years (c. 1842-1882) at his country estate, long after his HMS Beagle adventures. Charles and Emma Wedgwood Darwin produced 10 children but lost three--an infant daughter and son, and the bright and charming 10-year-old Annie, whose death plunged her parents into profound bereavement. Annie's fatal tuberculosis (a cogent diagnosis suggested by Keynes, although it was problematic in Darwin's day) was the most wrenching event of the naturalist's middle age.
This article was originally published with the title The First Evolutionary Psychologist.