Copy Book Archive

Triumph in Adversity Two famous figures, one from the sciences and one from the arts, who turned suffering to advantage.
Music: John Playford (ed.)

© Richard Crowest Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source

About this picture …

The ‘parallel roads’ of Glen Roy, some sixteen miles northeast of Fort William in Scotland, can be seen here highlighted by a recent snowfall. Darwin visited the glen in 1838 to study it as an aid to his convalescence from stress-related ill health. The ‘roads’ are in fact the shoreline of an ancient lake formed as the glaciers melted in the last Ice Age, some ten thousand years ago.

Triumph in Adversity
Samuel Smiles gives two striking examples of great Englishmen who have brought much good out of their sufferings, one in the field of science, the other in the arts.

MUCH of the best and most useful work done by men and women has been done amidst affliction — sometimes as a relief from it, sometimes from a sense of duty overpowering personal sorrow.

“If I had not been so great an invalid,” said Dr Darwin to a friend, “I should not have done nearly so much work as I have been able to accomplish.”*

So Dr Donne, speaking of his illnesses, once said: “This advantage you and my other friends have by my frequent fevers is, that I am so much the oftener at the gates of Heaven; and by the solitude and close imprisonment they reduce me to, I am so much the oftener at my prayers, in which you and my other dear friends are not forgotten.”**

Character, in its highest forms, is disciplined by trial, and “made perfect through suffering.”*** Even from the deepest sorrow, the patient and thoughtful mind will gather richer wisdom than pleasure ever yielded.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is famous as the author of ‘Origin of Species’, which popularised his Theory of Evolution. Stress began to affect him seriously from the late 1830s onwards, revealing itself in headaches and skin, stomach and heart symptoms of various kinds which stubbornly refused to go away.

** John Donne (1573-1631) is best known today for his sacred and secular poetry. He nearly died of a bout of fever in late November and early December 1623, while he was Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The experience led directly to his ‘Devotions upon Emergent Occasions’ (1624) and the famous line ‘Never send to know for whom the bell tolls’.

*** See Hebrews 2:10.


Samuel Smiles encourages us to believe that suffering does not have to dampen our ambitions, or lower our aims in life. He gives as examples scientist Charles Darwin and poet John Donne, both of whom said that they had achieved more, for themselves and for others, as a consequence of persistent ill-health than they would have achieved without it. (59 / 60 words)


From Character by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

Suggested Music

The Duke of Norfolk, or Paul’s Steeple (1651)

John Playford (ed.) (1623-1686)

Performed by David Douglass, Paul O’Dette, and Andrew Lawrence-King.

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