...into the life of things: Wordsworth!

Thu Sep 28 09:41:52 CDT 1995

Dear TAXACOM Friends,

A couple of days ago, I posted a request for help in finding the
source of the phrase, "...see into the life of things," which I
attributed to Darwin in an article I published in Natural History in
1985. Several useful and thoughtful replies pointed to other
sources of help on the Internet, but two responses settled the

First, Alec McClay (Alberta Environmental Centre) remembered the
real, or as he generously suggested, the original source of the
quotation. It was not Darwin, but Wordsworth, in "Lines Composed
a Few Miles Above Tinturn Abbey..." (1798).

Here is an excerpt, with intervening musings left out to connect
the begining of the thought with the phrase in question at the end,
some 35 lines later. WW has just described the beauties of the
landsape before him, then:

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye;
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

Second, Nicholas Lander (Western Australia Herbarium) wrote that
an exhaustive search of the electronic versions of Origin of
Species, Voyage of the Beagle, Descent of Man, and the
Autobiographical Fragment revealed no use of the phrase "...see
into the life of things."

Now it is possible that Darwin quoted WW somewhere else, but a
little research of my own convinces me that it is more likely that
I simply blundered in attributing the quotation to Darwin. Once I
saw Alec McClay's message regarding the Tinturn Abbey quote,
bells slowly began tinkling in my dim memory. A trip to the
bookshelf at home produced my copy of The Norton Anthology of
English Literature, with those lines (and others) nicely
underscored in ink and little remarks in the margin in my college
hand. Then I managed to dig out a notebook of my student essays
from undergraduate days at Harvard, among which I found "Nature
and the Nature of Poetry: Pope, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Eliot," for
Mrs. Plotz, English 10, 1964. You guessed it, I quoted those very
lines from Wordsworth.

Well, Mrs. Plotz gave me an A on the essay, but I get a D for
postgraduate scholarship. My guess is that my feeble brain
somehow transmogrified the authorship of the quotation from WW
to CD in the years between 1964, when I clearly knew the source,
and 1985, when I wrote the piece for Natural History.

So with apologies to all, I want to set the record straight and
render unto to Wordsworth what is Wordsworth's and leave Darwin
with no more his due.

Postscript: Having confessed all this to Carol Yoon, the science
writer who asked me for the source of the quotation, Carol
replied: "I have to admit I'm sorry to have forced you to discover
that it wasn't Darwin but Wordsworth. It SHOULD have been
Darwin, in my opinion. That would have been much more useful and
apt for all of us. But rather than finding your scholarship shoddy, I
find your record keeping amazing. Old college papers, Norton
anthologies with notes scribbled inside. I wish I could lay hands
on my grocery list. So I will have to consider having Wordsworth
rather than Darwin on my side in using his quote. Neither of them
are bad allies, I think."

Best regards,

Rob Colwell

Robert K. Colwell
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut, U-42
Storrs, CT 06269-3042
E-mail colwell at uconnvm.uconn.edu
***PLEASE NOTE THE NEW AREA CODE for northern. CT: 860***
Voice (860) 486-4395
Fax (860) 486-3790
ÿÿ    ...into the life of things: Wordsworth!                                 FO

More information about the Taxacom mailing list