“From him [Robert Grant] Darwin acquired a lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates …” The Beagle Letters, Frederick Burkhardt, ed (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008), p. xiii.
To the extent I had given the matter thought ere I came across this interesting bit of data, I would have assumed that Charles Darwin’s lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates had been a gift. I could have pictured the scene and probably would have had it occurred to me that it was an alternative to doing my job:
Parent: Wake up, Charlie! It’s Christmas morning, and just look what Father Christmas has left for you!
Young Charles Darwin: A puppy? A spy-glass?
Parent: Much better! It’s a lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates!
But now I find I would have been mistaken; it wasn’t a gift at all but something Darwin acquired for himself. I take it that Grant, in addition to being a medical lecturer, ran a small tuck shop outside the Shrewsbury School:
Grant: Ah young Master Darwin! And how may I serve you today? Toffee? Laudanum? Bullets?
Darwin: Nothing like that; I have saved all my tip money for the past term and I want to acquire something good for it. I thought I might get an inquiring spirit and a heart that laughs at danger. Do you have them in stock?
Grant: We’d have to order them. They don’t come cheap, mind you; 80 pounds or so, and carrying charges.
Darwin: A winning personality?
Grant: 63 pounds and there’s a six-month wait.
Darwin: Ah! Never mind then. How about the power to cloud men’s’ minds?
Grant: Nine pounds thruppence.
Darwin: Too dear!
Grant: It comes with the power to uncloud them too.
Darwin: Still, I can’t afford it.
Gant: And about how much were you thinking of spending today?
Darwin: Anything up to 17 shillings.
Grant (rummaging below the counter): Let me see here … I could let you have an incurable addiction to bad puns; very reasonable at 14 shillings, tuppence.
Darwin: But what if I don’t want to make bad puns? What if I want to make good ones?
Grant: We strive to serve, Master Darwin, but we cannot do the impossible. There are no good puns.
(Blows some dust off a box). AhA! I think this will serve nicely, and a rare bargain at 10 shillings. Very rare, this.
Darwin: What is it?
Grant: A lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates!
Darwin: A lifelong fascination with the reproductive processes of invertebrates?
Grant: Hours and hours of educational fun! Why, with this little gem your popularity at social gatherings will be assured! And, tell you what – for sixpence more we’ll include some late-blooming hypochondria and a passion for beetles.
Darwin: Alright then … I’ll take it. And, while I think of it, a half-pound of bullseye candies, some laudanum and a few bullets …