There is grandeur in this view of life… (that) from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, while this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.
Charles Darwin Studied Life
The excerpt above is is the last paragraph of Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” his most important and famous work. On this day, October 10, of 1881, Darwin published something he thought was just as important: “The Formation of Vegetable Mold Through the Action of Worms.”
The worm book is full of observations that made me imagine Charles Darwin as a little boy with his chin to the ground, watching bugs. He describes keeping several pots filled with dirt or sand, worms and various sorts of leaves. The worms like some sorts of leaves better than others, and react to some sorts of stimulation but are impervious to others.
Worms do not possess any sense of hearing. They took not the least notice of the shrill notes from a metal whistle, which was repeatedly sounded near them; nor did they of the deepest and loudest tones of a bassoon. They were indifferent to shouts, if care was taken that the breath did not strike them. When placed on a table close to the keys of a piano, which was played as loudly as possible, they remained perfectly quiet.
Although they are indifferent to undulations in the air audible by us, they are extremely sensitive to vibrations in any solid object. When the pots containing two worms which had remained quite indifferent to the sound of the piano, were placed on this instrument, and the note C in the bass clef was struck, both instantly retreated into their burrows.The Formation of Vegetable Mold Through the Action of Worms
Now, did a piano live in Darwin’s work space, or were the worm pots carried into the parlor? Either way leaves me with an image of Darwin’s observant brand of curiosity pouring from one space to another, and that makes me smile.