Paul H. Barrett and R. B. Freeman (eds), The Works of Charles Darwin, Vol. 18: Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants
pg A5INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME EIGHTEEN
Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants. [Second edition] 1882. Revised, third thousand. Freeman 839.
Darwin's new hothouses at Down House were built early in 1862. For the next three years, when his health was being particularly difficult, he was able to observe nutation in climbing plants both in these houses and in his study. In 1865, he was able to write up his findings in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London Vol. 9, pages 1–128 with thirteen text woodcuts. At the same time the publishers for the Society, Longmans and Williams & Norgate, produced the article as a paperback pamphlet; this is the first edition of the book. Ten years later, after some further work, he was able to offer a second edition to John Murray which was only slightly longer than the first. The text printed here is the third thousand which has an appendix to the preface; the figures are the same as those of the first edition.
This little book gives a marvellous impression of Darwin as an experimental scientist, practising a great deal of watching, a little touching, and a lot of measurement. It also contains much less than some of his works of the observations of others. At one point he describes how 'the plant tried but failed to entwine a pole 5 inches in diameter, where previously it succeeded in twisting itself round a 4 inch pole'. Such statements show that he treated all living beings as adaptive organisms, their morphological structures serving the 'purpose of contributing to survival'.
Darwin has been adversely criticized for being too teleological in his approach, but in reality teleological explanations, if cautiously employed, and if they serve the function of stimulating creative investigations, can be useful. Moving from a teleological position to a more mechanistic stance was a convenient device for drawing out function, form, and cause and effect. He often dealt with living things as if they had 'goal-orientated' actions, and by so doing he could move more easily into mechanistic speculations about physical and biological laws at work.pg A6