Charles Darwin in 1840. Watercolour by George Richmond.
Darwin – whose 200th birthday we are celebrating this year – was asked by his half-cousin Francis Galton to fill out a seven-page questionnaire in 1873. Galton carried out a survey of the mental attributes of scientific men, intending to identify the ‘genius’ or talent for science that, as he believed, characterised the British nation (published as English Men of Science, Their Nature and Nurture in 1874). The questionnaire, which was circulated among fellows of the Royal Society, covered family background, health, temperament, religious beliefs, education, and scientific interests.
Originality or eccentricity? – George [Darwin’s son] thinks this applies to me. I do not think so – ie. as far as eccentricity. I suppose that I have shown originality in science, as I have made discoveries with regard to common objects.
Education? – I consider that all I have learnt of any value has been self-taught.
Do your scientific tastes appear to have been innate? – They were certainly innate… my innate taste for natural history strongly confirmed and directed by the voyage in the Beagle.
Has the religious creed taught in your youth had any deterrent effect on the freedom of your researches? – No.
Religious affiliation? – Nominally to Church of England.
Politics? – Liberal or radical.
Health? – Good when young – bad for last 33 years.
Temperament? – Somewhat nervous.
Energy of body? – Energy shown by much activity, and whilst I had health, power of resisiting fatigue. … An early riser in the morning.
Energy of mind? – Shown by rigorous and long-continued work on same subject, as 20 years of the ‘Origin of Species’ and 9 years on Cirripedia.
Memory? – Memory very bad for dates, and for learnig by rote; but good in retaining a general or vague recollection of many facts.
Studiousness? – Very studious, but not large acquirements.
Independence of Judgement? – I think fairly independent; but I can give no instances. I gave up common religious belief almost independently from my own reflections.
Strongly marked mental peculiarities? – Steadiness, great curiosity about facts and their meaning. Some love of the new and marvellous.
Special talents? – None, except for business, as evinced by keeping accounts, replies to correspondence, and investing money very well. Very methodical in all my habits.