White’s interest in metaphor can be traced to Amherst College, where his composition teacher, Theodore Baird, centred a course on it. In an article on the naturalist Charles Darwin, an article that connects him to the essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle, Baird attends to the nature and signifi cance of metaphor:

Plainly Carlyle belongs to literature. Darwin’s position is obscure. A popular textbook places him at the opposite pole, remarking that his work ‘cannot be said to belong to literature, if in the defi nition of literary work is presupposed an effort towards artistic expression.’ Yet Darwin, who certainly never thought of himself as a writer like Carlyle, was deeply concerned with literary composition . . . . Darwin’s subject – the face of the earth, the processes of nature – had long been within the scope of literature . . . . When in the Origin Darwin came to express how Nature as a whole seemed to him, he . . . used a metaphor. Nature, he said, is like something else, a struggle for existence, in which the fi ttest survive. . . . He took pains to say that the struggle for existence is not a fact but only a fi gure of speech.