Charles Darwin – civilised gent amongst the ‘savages’.

We begin with the ‘other’ book by Charles Darwin “ THE DESCENT OF MAN, AND SELECTION IN RELATION TO SEX.”

Charles Darwin was a good writer, and chose his concluding paragraphs with real care.

In relation to the most sensitive of subjects, the question of the place of humanity in the scheme of things, he drew the topic to a conclusion in a way which narrowed the distance between ‘civilised’ humans and animals, while at the same time, distancing ‘civilised’ from ‘savage’ peoples.

“Darwin ended the book on a personal note, still telling tales, still praising the real heroes, the animals. He told of the ‘heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper,’ and the old baboon who saved ‘his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs.’ ‘For my own part,’ he confessed, ‘I would as soon be descended’ from them as from a naked, degraded savage.” (Desmond and Moore 1991;581)

Darwin’s concluding remarks to Volume two of The Descent of Man

“The main conclusion arrived at in this work, namely that man is descended from some lowly-organised form, will, I regret to think, be highly distasteful to many persons. But there can hardly be a doubt that we are descended from barbarians. The astonishment which I felt on first seeing a party of Fuegians on a wild and broken shore will never be forgotten by me, for the reflection at once rushed into my mind—such were our ancestors. These men were absolutely naked and bedaubed with paint, their long hair was tangled, their mouths frothed with excitement, and their expression was wild, startled, and distrustful. They possessed hardly any arts, and like wild animals lived on what they could catch; they had no government, and were merciless to every one not of their own small tribe. He who has seen a savage in his native land will not feel much shame, if forced to acknowledge that the blood of some more humble creature flows in his veins. For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper; or from that old baboon, who, descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs—as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practises infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.

Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hopes for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason allows us to discover it. I have given the evidence to the best of my ability; and we must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

( http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?itemID=F937.2&viewtype=text&pageseq=1 )