JF Ptak Science Books Post 1170
There are unending missing pieces for me in the works of the greats (literal “phantoms” in the Latin phrase for their collected works, “opera”), one of which came bubbling up reading the excellent piece by Michael Barton (Dispersal of Darwin blog) on Darwin in caricature. It put me in mind of Darwin and music, or, really, Darwin caricature in music In the 19th century. There doesn’t seem to be much to it, at least for the old stuff–there’s plenty of modern music, but it seems that there aren’t very many old notes. There is this example that I found at the Library of Congress site, though:
“Too thin; or, Darwin's little joke by O'Rangoutang”published in New York by William A. Pond, 1874, which came 13 years after the appearance of the first Darwin caricature (in London’s Punch magazine, 14 May 1861, seen below).
This does bring up an interesting issue for me, though it is one frankly that I do not understand, about the relationship between Darwin and music. It is also somewhat related to an interest in Einstein and music, though for different reasons. With Einstein, it has bothered me a bit that he was seemingly uninterested in any of the new forms of music that appeared in the revolutionary period of 1895-1925. And, for that matter, Einstein’s artistic tastes were also quite classical and conservative. Given the enormous changes in the fields of music and art and literature, and that all entered revolutionary periods during this time, and that Einstein brought his own revolution to bear on the world during the same period, it is a little odd to me that his tastes were so restricted by an earlier time.
The issue with Darwin’s relationship to music is different, the tone-deaf Darwin applying his interest in music to the theory of sexual selection in animals and (perhaps) humans. This idea seems to have first made an appearance in a posthumously-published 1844 (“The Essay of 1844") work in Francis Darwin’s Foundations of the Origin of Species, published in 1903, but more specifically in his Descent of Man (1871):
"The capacity and love for singing or music, though not a sexual character in man, must not here be passed over. Although the sounds emitted by animals of all kinds serve many purposes, a strong case can be made out, that the vocal organs were primarily used and perfected in relation to the propagation of the species. " (Darwin, C. (1871) The Descent of Man . John Murray: London p. 587)
"All these facts with respect to music and impassioned speech become intelligible to a certain extent, if we may assume that musical tones and rhythm were used by our half-human ancestors, during the season of courtship, when animals of all kinds are excited not only by love, but by the strong passions of jealousy, rivalry, and triumph. From the deeply-laid principle of inherited associations, musical notes in this case would be likely to call up vaguely and indefinitely the strong emotions of a long-past age. As we have every reason to suppose that articulate speech is one of the latest, as it certainly is the highest, of the arts acquired by man, and as the instinctive power of producing musical notes and rhythms is developed low down in the animal series, it would be altogether opposed to the principle of evolution, if we were to admit that man's musical capacity has been developed from the tones used in impassioned speech. We must suppose that the rhythms and cadences or oratory are derived from previously developed musical powers. We can thus understand how it is that music, dancing, song, and poetry are such very ancient arts. We must go even further than this, and, as remarked in a former chapter, believe that musical sounds afforded one of the bases for the development of language." (Darwin, C. (1871) The Descent of Man . John Murray: London p. 593)
As I said, I’m not sure at all about where music lives in the works of Darwin, or, for that matter, where it lived in his head. It is interesting that music may play some role in the history of humans and animals, though it seems that Darwin had a distanced relationship with music itself. He would certainly listen–his wife was an excellent player–though it seems as though Darwin didn’t have a musical sinew in his body. I’m not saying that you have to be able to “bend” a soccer strike like Beckham in order to explain it; I’m just curious about the great man’s relationship to music. I’m afraid I haven’t anything more than questions on this.
Two interesting items for consideration:
Charles Kivy, Charles Darwin and Music, Journal of the American Musicological Society
Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1959), pp. 42-48
Darwin in caricature: A study in the popularisation and dissemination of evolution
Author: Browne, J. PROCEEDINGS OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY 12/2001 Volume 145 Issue 4 Pages 496 - 509
And the first caricature (I think) from the London Punch