The Peripatetic Reviewer

DARWIN AND THE BEAGLE, by Alan Moorehead Harper & Row, $15.00
What makes Darwin and the Beagle by Alan Moorehead such an enchanting book is the magnetic buoyancy of Charles Darwin as he was in his early twenties: “the most open, transparent man I ever saw, and every word expresses his real thoughts”—so his wife, Emma, described him (they were married shortly after his return from the historic voyage) , and so he was as he came down from Cambridge and made his bow to the world. At Christ’s College this blithe, tall young man with his pleasant good looks had acquired a reputation for “horsiness.” He loved to hunt and shoot, and from boyhood, as Mr. Moorehead says, “everything in the fields delighted him. Flowers, rocks, butterflies, birds and spiders”—he collected them all with an aimless absorption. He loathed the classics and mathematics, but—and the but is decisive—the undergraduates, with their singular capacity for identification, had marked him as “the man who walks with Henslow.” Henslow was Professor of Botany, and the understanding between the don and the student was to be the most sustaining relationship in Darwin’s development.
Darwin’s father, a wealthy physician, stood 6’a", weighed 328 pounds, and was just as autocratic as that bulk suggests. Mrs. Darwin had died when the boy teas eight, and he had been brought up by his three older sisters. Since the classics were beyond him (Julian Huxley said that with today’s standards Darwin would never have got into a university) , Charles was first sent to study medicine at Edinburgh, but he could not stand the sight of blood and did not take dissection seriously. Alter this initial failure, his father let him go to Cambridge with the dim possibility that he might eventually enter the Church. And then in the summer of 1831, with his degree in his pocket, Charles opened an unexpected letter from Henslow offering him the post of unpaid naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, which was soon to be outward-bound to chart the unmapped seas.
Dr. Darwin did not approve: “If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go I will give my consent.” The man Charles found was fosiah Wedgwood, his uncle and father-in-law-to-be, who heartily approved of the expedition and persuaded the bulky doctor to change his mind. There remained the necessity that Charles must commend himself to Robert FitzRoy, the captain of the ship, whose cabin he would share for two years or more. They were of an age, and after a chilly beginning the attraction was mutual.
What makes Mr. Moorehead’s books, The White Nile, The Blue Nile, and now Darwin and theBeagle, of such unfailing delight are his capacity to get inside the skin of his leading characters, the skill with which he recaptures the atmosphere of an earlier age, and his brilliant power of description. The attraction and the inevitable competition between Darwin and FitzRoy wc are never permitted to forget. FitzRoy, a martinet of precarious temper, was at heart a fundamentalist, and apart from his duty, the voyage, he believed, “would provide a grand opportunity to substantiate the Bible, especially the book of Genesis.” As a naturalist, Darwin might easily find many evidences of the Flood and the first appearance of all created things upon the earth, and Charles, the young clergymanto-be, was ready to agree. Discretion and irony were implicit in this situation, for the bolder Charles became in his discoveries, the more he antagonized FitzRoy, who could at any time order him home.
In the early stages there was some question whether Charles could take it, for he was dreadfully seasick, as he would be recurrently in the rougher passages. Yet his charm and his manliness commended him to the ship’s company, to the seventy-two who were crowded aboard the little brig, and whenever they put him ashore, his resourcefulness in exploration and the strange things he discovered and packed off to Henslow back in Cambridge made him an endearing object of curiosity. “Use more paper, and not so much tow,” Henslow would write. “One excellent crab had lost all its legs, a bird had its tail feathers crumpled, two mice were rather mouldy.”
Mr. Moorehead illuminates those major discoveries which erased Genesis from Charles’s mind and prompted his evolutionary speculation. In Patagonia at Punta Alta, he and his assistant pickaxed out the bones of gigantic creatures embedded in a thick matrix of seashells. There were breathtaking days in the Andes, where at 12,000 feet he found a bed of fossil seashells and only a little lower a forest of white petrified pine trees, with marine rocks at their base. In tiie grim aftermath of the earthquake at Talcalmano Darwin observed that the level of the land had risen a few feet higher than before—if in an hour the land was thrust up like that from the sea, how long had it taken the Andes to grow? On the Galapagos the different species of finch and the variety ol their beaks—one had a beak for cracking nuts and seeds, another to catch insects, and still another fed on fruits and flowers—convinced him that he was “on the edge of a remarkable and disturbing discovery.”
The voyage lasted five years, and except for seasickness Darwin’s physique was equal to every test; he climbed the highest peaks, penetrated the densest forests, rode for eleven unbroken hours in the saddle, and in the midst of this prodigious output, was learning to write! He was never to enjoy such physical fitness again, and during the long writing years that followed he was ailing and sedentary. Darwin’s theories, so furiously denounced by the Church, were to prove the most profound of his century, and it is Mr. Moorehead’s achievement to have shown us the discoverer at the peak of his power and unafraid. The contemporary illustrations, colorplates and black and whites, point up the text to perfection.
FOR YOU DEPARTED, by Alan Patou. Scribner’s, $5.95
Adversity is a powerful stimulant to writers, and it is no coincidence that two of the ablest in the English-speaking world, Nadine Gordimer and Alan Patou, are South Africans who have done their best books in an atmosphere no less oppressive than that in which Pasternak died. For You Departed, Alan Patou’s new book, is by design a long epistle of sixty-eight episodes composed for his wife, who died in 1967. In substance it is a memoir in which his self-portrait and that of Doris, their love, their friction, and their anguish stir the reader with that lyrical power one recalls in his novels Cry, The Beloved Country, and Too Late the Phalarape.
Doris was twenty-eight, six years his senior, and married to another man when Alan first watched her playing tennis, and her mischief and zest on the court captivated him. Fie was a twenty-two-year-old teacher in the Ixopo High School, a virgin, hard-disciplined and pious. His love for her could not be disguised, and when her husband died of tuberculosis, he declared himself and was tentatively accepted, with tiie warning that site could never care for him as she could lor Iter first lover. The story within this memoir is how Patou won her despite her indecision, her sharpness, and her diffidence.
Alan’s parents were severe Puritans: the theater was tricked, they would have no alcohol in the house, and they disapproved of the pomp of the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church. (Doris on her visits was forbidden to smoke.) From this stern, sometimes cruel, household, young Patou emerged a dedicated being much in need of the liberation and the encouragement he was to receive from His defiant hut intensely loyal wife. She backed him again and again in his harder choices; she backed him when he turned from the pleasant security of Maritzburg College, of which he might have become headmaster, to accept tire principalship of Diepkloof Reformatory, with its four hundred African delinquents ranging in age from thirteen to seventy. “Why do we have to leave Natal, where all our family and friends are?” she said tearfully, “I don’t want to go.” But she did go, to the miserable small dark house which was their allotment, and she was with him when he cleaned up that evil-smelling prison, issued tobacco to the inmates, and set up trust and freedom as incentives. Doris was with him when he accepted the leadership of the National Liberation Party, which was eventually suppressed because of its advocacy of a multiracial society. She typed iiis novels, joyed in them, and went on a lighthearted trip with him when he received the London Sunday Times Award. She shared his house arrest while he sat coldly watching the inspectors rifile his papers and she lay in her bed, invalid and gasping for breath.
Doris had a quick temper, which Alan and their sons could easily provoke; she rarely found words for her love; and he tells how in her prickly way she inflicted “my green and foolish hurts.” This book in its intimate way searches for and reveals their hard-won understanding, and the gloom of grief is relieved by Alan’s acceptance of the life hereafter. Rarely has a partnership been so well defined in its scriptural purity.
HERO OF THE CITIES, by Matthew and Hannah Josephson. Houghton Mifflin, $7.95
Hero of the Cities is a political portrait of Allred E. Smith, a lively, sympathetic account of “the gentleman from Tammany,” as his Republican opponents dubbed him, who, as Frances Perkins truly said, “was the man responsible for the first drift in the United States toward the conception that political responsibility involved a duty to improve the life of the people.” The Josephsons have Miss Perkins to thank for much of their source material, and they do so handsomely in their foreword. Miss Perkins, a welfare worker and one of Al Smith’s ablest lieutenants, was destined to become the first woman Cabinet member in our history. But, say the Josephsons, “she never forgot that she owed her advancement to Smith, as he owed his growing social consciousness to her.” She had long planned to write the life of Iter beloved chief, and as she approached eighty, had finished three brief chapters on his boyhood and youth and taped nearly a thousand pages about him for the Columbia University Archives. With such leads the Josephsons went on to do their own research and to write from first to last their frank, admiring, sometimes sad, often amusing chronicle of the “Happy Warrior” in action.
An East Side Irish boy and a grandson of Irish and Italian immigrants, Alfred Emmanuel Smith began to support his widowed mother when he was fourteen, as a truck chaser, then as a fishmonger ("I might also mention that we ate quite a lot of fish”) . When Tammany Hall began to keep an eye on him, he peddled all about the city servingnotice on theose chosen for jury duty, and with his alertness he was promoted to be investigator for the Commissioner of Jurors, with authority to pursue the shirkers. He learned from whatever he did, had the memory of an elephant, and was unafraid. Tammany Hall, in which he received his political education, was a tough machine, but like Harry Truman, he emerged with his principles intact and a capacity to grow.
As a young assemblyman in Albany, Al Smith had a moderate taste for liquor, found prizefights repugnant, and would not gamble. With another newly elected assemblyman, Robert F. Wagner, who had graduated from City College and law school, he cut through the occult terms of the bills before the legislature to find the real intent. Since nearly all the bills involved spending die state’s money, he toiled through the six hundred pages of the annual appropriation retaining a good deal of what was essential; and after five years, as the biographers tell us, his racy language, his defense of the plain people of the city streets, his resonant voice, and the humor he packed into the punch line marked him as a comer.
The Triangle factory fire, in which more than a hundred young girls, garment workers, were burned or jumped to their death, shocked Al Smith, for his mother had been a factory worker, and if this could happen in the middle of New York City, he reasoned, it cotdd happen anywhere. This tragedy put him in touch with Miss Perkins, and during the four years that followed, it led to one of Al’s greatest political achievements, the measures to protect the health of workers, to limit the hours of labor of women and children, and to compensate the victims of accidents. Years later Frances Perkins overheard a man asking one of the Tammany sachems where Smith got all his information. “He read a book,” said the Tammany man. “What did he read?” “He knew Frances Perkins, and she teas a book.”
T he politics of that era, Republican and Democratic, were often sordid, and being warmed over does not make them less so. When this occurs it is advisable to skip in search of the Brown Derby. One of the best scenes in the book is the Constitutional Convention of 1915, when Al with his extraordinary knowledge of the legislature and his wit first came to the notice of the ranking Republicans, such as Elihu Root, Henry L. Stimson, and John Lord O’Brian. Smith’s inner cabinet of Boss Murphy, Judge Proskauer, Frances Perkins, Belle Moskowitz, and young Robert Moses are well characterized, and the progressive legislation which he pressed through during his four terms as governor set a record which FDR was to emulate.
Al Smith’s tragedy began in the Democratic National Convention of 1924, when for a full fortnight he and McAdoo were locked in a stalemate for the nomination which finally went to John W. Davis. The country was not yet ready for “a Wet, a Roman Catholic, brown derby, cigar, and all,” to be its President. The famous article he wrote for the Atlantic in affirmation of his loyalty as Patriot and Catholic dismissed the issue but not the prejudice. Al’s break with Roosevelt, his sorry association with Raskob and the Liberty League, his vindictive attack on the New Deal, and his bolting the party for Landon were the embittered reactions of a leader rejected.