To the general his novels must always be a kind of caviare; for they have no analogue in letters but are the output of a mind and temper of singular originality. To the honest Tory, sworn to admire and unable to comprehend, they must seem inexplicable as abnormal. To the professional Radical they are so many proofs of innate inferiority: for they are full of pretentiousness and affectation; they teem with examples of all mannner of vices, from false English to a delight in dukes; they prove their maker a trickster and a charlatan in every page. To them, however, whose first care is for rare work, the series of novels that began with Vivian Grey and ended with Endymion is one of the pleasant facts in modern letters. These books abound in wit and daring, in originality and shrewdness, in knowledge of the world and in knowledge of men; they contain mauy vivid and striking studies of character, both portrait aud caricature; they sparkle with speaking phrases and happy epithets; they are aglow with the passion of youth, the love of love, the worship of physical beauty, the admiration of whatever is [20-21] costly and select and splendid — from a countess to a castle, from a duke to a diamond; they are radiant with delight in whatever is powerful or personal or attractive — from a cook to a cardinal, from an agitator to an emperor. They often remind you of Voltaire, often of Balzac, often of The Arabian Nights. You pass from an heroic drinking bout to a brilliant criticism of style; from rhapsodies on bands and ortolans that remind you of Heine to a gambling scene that for directness and intensity may vie with the bluntest and strongest work of Prosper Merimée; from the extravagant impudence of Popanilla to the sentimental rodomontade of Henrietta Temple; from ranting romanticism in Alroy to vivid realism in Sybil. Their author gives you no time to weary of him, for he is worldly and passionate, fantastic and trenchant, cynical and ambitious, flippant and sentimental, ornately rhetorical and triumphantly simple in a breath. He is imperiously egoistic, but while constantly parading his own personality he is careful never to tell you anything about it. And withal he is imperturbably good-tempered: he brands and gibbets with a smile, and with a smile he adores and applauds.


Complete text of Darwin's Autobiography.

Last modified 3 February 2008/p>