Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, a Memoir of Science and Faith.
Father and Son by Edmund Gosse is a deeply moving Victorian memoir, full of Devon, the sea, tidal pools, and religion!
Gosse’s father Philip was a distinguished naturalist. (One finds traces of Gosse as Oscar in Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, while Oscar’s father is most certainly modelled on Philip). He had a childhood split between two enthusiams–tidepooling, and the Devon beach, and Christianity, a narrow, sectarian, relatively joyless version of it–that of the Plymouth Brethren.
Gosse was a type of a Eminent Victorian, who lives in and for science, science and faith. He writes in his journal of his beloved wife–“E. delivered of a son. Received green swallow from Jamaica”—an amusing conjunction which Edmund described as demonstrating only the order of events: the boy had arrived first.
Gosse movingly describes the rapture with which his father greeted Charles Darwin’s newly published theories. They made perfect sense to his mind, and his scientific instincts. It was like all the pieces of a jigsaw falling into place. But then he realizes the contradictions with Genesis. He decided if what there is a contradiction between what his knowledge of science tells him is true, and what his knowledge of scripture tells him is true, the former must be wrong. Making himself the laughing stock of the Royal Society, he argues against the theory of evolution.
Gosse, a sensitive, literary teen and his father are increasingly at odds as it becomes clear that Gosse will never follow in his father’s steps and become a lay preacher. Gosse eventually becomes a distinguished literary critic, while, movingly, maintaining cordial relationships with his father, obeying the ancient law of that the bonds of close family relationship are not lightly to be broken, as he puts it.
A charming memoir, and the first psychological memoir to be written, where the main action and drama is within. As such, it is still a very interesting exemplar of the genre of the memoir, the genre of little things lovingly backlit (as opposed to the autobiography).