Talk:Charles Darwin

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 Definition (1809 – 1882) English natural scientist, most famous for proposing the theory of natural selection. [d] [e]
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This is the main article for a group of subpages, all of which were written carefully by an amateur but based on one of the references (Desmond) and taking its style. It needs to be therefore rewritten, with other sources in mind. DavidGoodman 23:37, 21 November 2006 (CST) There has been considerable rewriting since the last comment, & it would probably be advisable to wait a few weeksDavidGoodman 01:08, 25 November 2006 (CST)

Darwin's health

Friends/Colleagues, When I have the time, I hope to add some important info about Darwin's health to this article. I have written extensively about this subject. You can read about this here:,128

The above link also links to specific letters by Darwin to confirm everything. Although many people may be skeptical about water-cure and homeopathic medicine, the results that Darwin experienced are significant and undeniable. Dana Ullman 20:03, 31 December 2008 (UTC)

Nobody previously commented upon my thoughts above, so I have inserted a summary of them, and I welcome dialogue. I hope that my references provide readers with some hard evidence for everything that was written. If you choose to comment here and/or do some editing of what I've written, could you please alert me so that we can collaborate? Dana Ullman 04:10, 16 January 2009 (UTC)

Dana Ullman 04:10, 16 January 2009 (UTC)

I didn't notice your comment when i cleaned up the article earlier. I have just removed the last section as it does not seem to flow very well and also appears to be a little speculative. For the record the part I cut is below. The part I find very speculative is "Dr. Gully may have played an important role in helping Charles Darwin survive long enough to enable him to finish the important scientific work". Was his illness ever life threatening? There is a big difference to 'thinking' you might die and actually being on a death bed. The problem I have now is that if I remove that last sentence the whole part I removed have no real point. Will think some more on this. Chris Day 05:55, 16 January 2009 (UTC)
Also, I cut the begining but only as it repeated information that was already in the article. Chris Day 05:56, 16 January 2009 (UTC)

Section removed from end

Removed from Darwin's health section, in its current form it seems too speculative.

Despite the benefits that Darwin seemed to experience, he remained skeptical about homeopathy. Three months after leaving Dr. Gully’s clinic, he wrote:

"You speak about Homœopathy; which is a subject which makes me more wrath, even than does Clairvoyance: clairvoyance so transcends belief, that one's ordinary faculties are put out of question, but in Homœopathy common sense & common observation come into play, & both these must go to the Dogs, if the infinitesimal doses have any effect whatever. How true is a remark I saw the other day by Quetelet, in respect to evidence of curative processes, viz that no one knows in disease what is the simple result of nothing being done, as a standard with which to compare Homœopathy & all other such things. It is a sad flaw, I cannot but think in my beloved Dr Gully, that he believes in everything when his daughter was very ill, he had a clairvoyant girl to report on internal changes, a mesmerist to put her to sleep, an homœopathist, viz Dr. Chapman; & himself as Hydropathist! & the girl recovered.”

Even though Darwin was skeptical of homeopathy, he acknowledged above another case in which the care that Dr. Gully provide led to recovery.

Darwin’s health history played an important role in his life. When one considers that Charles Darwin was extremely sick in 1849 and expecting to die, it would not be until 1859 that Darwin finished his seminal book, The Origin of Species. Dr. Gully may have played an important role in helping Charles Darwin survive long enough to enable him to finish the important scientific work.

Darwin's letter 1236

This letter is referenced many times, is there a better way to present his experience of homeopathy with just one citation?

I was at the time so unwell that I was unable to travel which added to my misery. Indeed all this winter I have been bad enough, with dreadful vomiting every week, & my nervous system began to be affected, so that my hands trembled & head was often swimming. I was not able to do anything one day out of three, & was altogether too dispirited to write to you or to do anything but what I was compelled.— I thought I was rapidly going the way of all flesh. Having heard, accidentally, of two persons who had received much benefit from the Water Cure, I got Dr Gully's bookf1 & made further enquiries, & at last started here, with wife, children & all our servants. We have taken a house for two month & have been here a fortnight. I am already a little stronger & now have had no vomiting for 10 days. Dr G. feels pretty sure he can do me good, which most certainly the regular Doctors could not. At present, I am heated by Spirit lamp till I stream with perspiration,f2 & am then suddenly rubbed violently with towels dripping with cold water: have two cold feet-baths, & wear a wet compress all day on my stomach. I eat simply, dine at 1 oclock & take several short walks daily. Even in first 8 days the treatment brought out an eruption all over my legs. I mention all this to you, as being a medical man, you might possibly like to hear about it.— I feel certain that the Water Cure is no quackery.— How I shall enjoy getting back to Down with renovated health, if such is to be my good fortune, & resuming the beloved Barnacles.

Above is the whole first hand description of his experience with Gully. Chris Day 06:54, 16 January 2009 (UTC)

Darwin's illness is an interesting topic, but an aside I think, maybe a separate short article?. It would be nice to keep these letters accessible in some way.Gareth Leng 10:22, 16 January 2009 (UTC)
Darwin's health issues played a critical role in his life, and we should not limit this section to one quote, nor should this section be too short. I have no problem taking out speculative stuff, but we need to keep the reference to Darwin's own words that say that he thinks that he is dying. What is so interesting here is that he has much respect for Gully and that despite Darwin's skepticism of homeopathy, he experiences a dramatic result from Gully's care which is not just hydrotherapy. In fact, the link to Gully's book includes a specific quote in which Gully asserts, "“Homeopathic practitioners have observed that patients under the water cure are more susceptible to the action of their remedies than other persons, and that therefore the results may be more accurately calculated. I have found this assertion to be substantially correct; and it confirms the vivifying influence of the water cure over the bodily functions” (page 48). Dana Ullman 04:40, 17 January 2009 (UTC)
With respect, I want to ask whether Darwin's opinions on homeopathy and treatment using homeopathy, on the occasion in question, rises to a certain level of importance for those studying Darwin and his life. Many detailed books are written about Darwin, full of facts that might be deemed more important than these. My question is whether there are other more important facts that would essentially be omitted to make room for these, in an article roughly of this length. I recommend, in the least bossy way possible, that our Biology editors examine this question and edit the section about Darwin's health according to their answer.
I didn't see what the point of footnote 6 was in the context of this article; it seemed to be a detail no doubt of interest to those studying homeopathy, but not so much for students of Darwin. So I removed it. --Larry Sanger 05:12, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

I agree with Dana that Darwin's illnesses were a major influence on his life, and he sought any and every remedy in turn. It's not clear what the illness was even now. I think his illness has an interest of its own as a way of understanding the context of medical care in the 18th century. Without knowing what Darwin's illness was, it is hard to judge whether anything he tried was effective. It was common then for the wealthy, when tired and unwell, to retreat to health resorts of various types and remain there until they recuperated. When recovered, they would leave again, and it was thought reasonable to assume that it was their treatment that had effected their recovery. It might have been, but these days we would think that many illnesses are self-limiting - they go away anyway in time, while others remit and recur, sometimes in progressively attenuated episodes. In this case we simply cannot know whether any treatment that Darwin was given had any effect on the natural course of his illness. So I think it's appropriate to have an article on Darwin's illness, to capture what is known of what was said at the time, to illustrate the context of 18th century health care, and maybe to cite the more recent speculations about what his illness might have been - and lengthy quotes,when they are from original sources, would I think be valuable there.

But I think it's hard to make a case that Darwin's illness had any effect at all on his science and philosophy - his enduring impact. I can't think of any sign in his scientific writings that anything in his disease or in the treatments he took for it changed how he thought. So ultimately I feel that this is a tangent, one that should be developed separately, but mentioned here only briefly and linked to. I'm happy with the section in its present form and length and including the quotes that are there.Gareth Leng 10:06, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

Let me be pedantic: Darwin lived in the 19th century, so 18th century health care wasn't of much relevance to him. --Paul Wormer 10:30, 17 January 2009 (UTC)
Ouch, thanks for that. 19th century it is, but don't think medicine was any better then :-)Gareth Leng 13:21, 17 January 2009 (UTC)
Larry, that reference was/is important for several reasons. The fact that Darwin got skin symptoms shortly after Gully's treatment began would give some people the initial (but incorrect) impression that Darwin was getting worse or that the treatment had "side effects." The reference makes it clear that these symptoms were a part of the healing process that homeopaths and other natural medicine practitioners observe as a part of the curative process. I will be doing an UNDO, though am open to more discussion.
As for how Darwin's health and his treatment had any effect on his scientific work, I encourage people to read the reference in one of my online articles about Darwin's experiments with insectivore plants: [,128]. His use of extremely small doses of ammonia salts could easily have been an impact from his experiences with and understandings of homeopathy. We do not know the source or motivation for these experiments, but he certainly followed homeopathic observations (he even used a common homeopathic medicine, DROSERA, to use as a test plant in his studies).
By the way, virtually every biography of Darwin has discussion of his health/illness in varying degrees. However, some historians ignore the fact that Gully was a homeopath, not just a practitioner of water-cure. Info on Darwin's health is notable for this article, and our information on it should not be too cursory, though we might consider having a separate and more detailed article just on his health. Dana Ullman 16:56, 17 January 2009 (UTC)
Dana, that's fine. We should leave the ultimate decision up to the editors of this article. --Larry Sanger 18:38, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

Development on separate page

All, I looked at the amount of editing that was going on in the "Darwin's health" section. I believe that this might be causing more heat than the subject really warrants--a situation we have been in before. Therefore, I've temporarily moved the entire health section to another page, Charles Darwin's health. I think this might help keep the temperature relatively low--I think we should try it. Once the section is better developed and more consensus achieved (or decisions made, anyway), it could be moved back. But please note that any Biology Editor should feel free to revert this action of mine. --Larry Sanger 18:52, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

I don't have a problem with health section, it is clearly a relevant biographical section. I don't have a problem with quotations from the letter either but we must be careful not over interpret the significance of his comments or try to diagnose from his descriptions. The section needs a little work but I don't think this will be too controversial from a talk page perspective.
As an aside, given it is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth next month, it would be nice to try and get this article into an approved state. Preferably with superb subpages to boot. Chris Day 20:51, 17 January 2009 (UTC)
Just to clarify, I didn't move the section because I had a problem with it. I just detected some potentially difficult conflict over the issues connected to Darwin's use of homeopathy, and thought that settling those issues off the main page might help prevent some unnecessary conflict. If I'm off base, again, any Biology Editor should feel free to move the text back at any time. --Larry Sanger 02:50, 18 January 2009 (UTC)
I don't have a problem with the section, but think it is a good idea to develop a new article to allow a number of potentially interesting issues to be developed. I'm restoring the section here (with an eye to Chris's caution on interpretation), but ask authors who wish to develop the theme of Darwin's health do do so first on that page rather than here. Hoping that that sounds reasonable to everyone, I'm restoring the section; on Darwin's Health I've added the source texts that were on this Talk page and added a bit on hydrotherapy to possibly help that article along.Gareth Leng 13:12, 18 January 2009 (UTC)

Pre-water treatment health changes

Dana, I don't believe it is possible to make the statement you have just inserted into the article. Look at the blue backed text at Charles Darwin's illness/Letters. How is it possible to say how improved Darwin really felt? Why could he not be more upbeat than reality when writing his letters? Darwin's actual comments are:

I have had much sickness this week, but certainly I have felt much stronger & the sickness has depressed me much less. Letter 1234


I am already certainly stronger & perhaps my stomach somewhat better. Letter 1235

From reading his letters he explicitly says he is still ill so I find it hard to say more than there was "some improvement". For me, your interpretation that he "experienced significant improvements" in health and then asserting that homeopathy "provided significant benefit" is not justified given Darwin's own comments. As to whether homeopathy provides significant benefit, what about the many other lifestyle variables? Homeopathy is only one change of many, how can we assume the other changes in Darwin's lifestyle do not provide even more benefit?

I recommend we delete that insertion since the conclusions are not justified given the information available and besides this is all original research. Chris Day 04:58, 22 January 2009 (UTC)

Hey Chris. Nice to dance with you again. I do not recommend such deletions because you need to read Letter 1236 which says: "I am already a little stronger & now have had no vomiting for 10 days. Dr G. feels pretty sure he can do me good, which most certainly the regular Doctors could not. At present, I am heated by Spirit lamp till I stream with perspiration,(f2) & am then suddenly rubbed violently with towels dripping with cold water: have two cold feet-baths, & wear a wet compress all day on my stomach. I eat simply, dine at 1 oclock & take several short walks daily. Even in first 8 days the treatment brought out an eruption all over my legs.[2] I mention all this to you, as being a medical man, you might possibly like to hear about it.— I feel certain that the Water Cure is no quackery." And later, he describes not having any nausea and vomiting for 30 days...and it goes on. Of greatest significance, there is no evidence that Darwin ever again complained about fainting spells, spots before his eyes, heart palpitations, or severe boils. Remember, just prior to coming to Dr. Gully, he wrote that he was dying AND he was unable to work 1 in every 3 days. Is ALL of this not significant? Dana Ullman 20:25, 25 January 2009 (UTC)
After reading the letters (and the footnotes) I agree with Chris that we do seem to make a few assumptions in the health section - for one that Dr Gully identified himself as a homeopath and, although it would be really nice to know for sure, we do appear to be giving too much credit to homeopathy as the reason for his improvement in symptoms. I agree with Dana that the degree of improvement could be considered significant, but we should call it improvement in his symptoms rather than improvement in his health. We know now that just because we feel better does not necessarily mean that our health is better. I see at least one place in the letters (see footnote f5) where the author notes that Gully himself wrote that he was skeptical that medicine or homeopathy could help with a chronic "nervous" disorder. He attributed the results to cooling the nerves with his cold water. We can't really say either of these, though I think we can say that he had the hydrotherapy (along with dietary changes) with homeopathy and he felt much better. It might also be prudent of us to mention that the symptoms returned a few times.
I made a change, feel free to adjust it as necessary. D. Matt Innis 02:20, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

Anything we write here is going to be subjective. We all agree there was improvement of some sort, so I don't see that issue to be particularly problematic, but the crux of my first point is how can we cite any improvement to homeopathy when there are so many variables in play? I'm trying to be objective here and I just can't see such a claim being justified given what Darwin wrote in the letters. I'm happy to hear what others think, or read secondary sources that make the same point. To make this easier to follow I am trying to document the text in the letters and arguments Dana uses and makes at Charles Darwin's illness/Letters. Chris Day 03:46, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

I just read the current version (by Matt) and it seems fine to me. Let's see what Dana thinks. Chris Day 04:24, 26 January 2009 (UTC)
I like what we've done. My only concern is that I wonder if there is a way to summarize the results of Dr. Gully's treatment on Darwin in a way that asserts that it is unconcern if Darwin would have lived long enough to have completed his seminar book in 1859 if he didn't get Gully's treatment in 1849. Dana Ullman 04:16, 27 January 2009 (UTC)
That's a little over the top :-) For instance, I did see several times that Darwin said that while he was at the 'spa' he rarely thought about barnacles... I suppose it is just as possible that the cold water treatments 'cooled his brain' so much that it actually slowed him down.. either way, they are both original research that I wouldn't want to encourage unless I were there. D. Matt Innis 04:23, 27 January 2009 (UTC)

Maybe the biggest thing that got him to publish was Wallace. Healthy or not, without Wallace it may never have got published but rather stayed on his desk being perfected forever. See our own Wallace article. Chris Day 04:37, 27 January 2009 (UTC)

Current news on Wallace

Washington Post coverage today [1] discusses Wallace's role, and some historical artifacts recently unveiled. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:13, 8 February 2009 (UTC)