THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF CHARLES DARWIN
INCLUDING AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL CHAPTER
EDITED BY HIS SON
In choosing letters for publication I have been largely guided by the wish to illustrate my father's personal character. But his life was so essentially one of work, that a history of the man could not be written without following closely the career of the author. Thus it comes about that the chief part of the book falls into chapters whose titles correspond to the names of his books.
In arranging the letters I have adhered as far as possible to chronological sequence, but the character and variety of his researches make a strictly chronological order an impossibility. It was his habit to work more or less simultaneously at several subjects. Experimental work was often carried on as a refreshment or variety, while books entailing reasoning and the marshalling of large bodies of facts were being written. Moreover, many of his researches were allowed to drop, and only resumed after an interval of years. Thus a rigidly chronological series of letters would present a patchwork of subjects, each of which would be difficult to follow. The Table of Contents will show in what way I have attempted to avoid this result.
In printing the letters I have followed (except in a few cases) the usual plan of indicating the existence of omissions or insertions. My father's letters give frequent evidence of having been written when he was tired or hurried, and they bear the marks of this circumstance. In writing to a friend, or to one of his family, he frequently omitted the articles: these have been inserted without the usual indications, except in a few instances, where it is of special interest to preserve intact the hurried character of the letter. Other small words, such as "of", "to", etc., have been inserted usually within brackets. I have not followed the originals as regards the spelling of names, the use of capitals, or in the matter of punctuation. My father underlined many words in his letters; these have not always been given in italics,—a rendering which would unfairly exaggerate their effect.
The Diary or Pocket-book, from which quotations occur in the following pages, has been of value as supplying a frame-work of facts round which letters may be grouped. It is unfortunately written with great brevity, the history of a year being compressed into a page or less; and contains little more than the dates of the principal events of his life, together with entries as to his work, and as to the duration of his more serious illnesses. He rarely dated his letters, so that but for the Diary it would have been all but impossible to unravel the history of his books. It has also enabled me to assign dates to many letters which would otherwise have been shorn of half their value.
Of letters addressed to my father I have not made much use. It was his custom to file all letters received, and when his slender stock of files ("spits" as he called them) was exhausted, he would burn the letters of several years, in order that he might make use of the liberated "spits." This process, carried on for years, destroyed nearly all letters received before 1862. After that date he was persuaded to keep the more interesting letters, and these are preserved in an accessible form.
I have attempted to give, in Chapter III., some account of his manner of working. During the last eight years of his life I acted as his assistant, and thus had an opportunity of knowing something of his habits and methods.
I have received much help from my friends in the course of my work. To some I am indebted for reminiscences of my father, to others for information, criticisms, and advice. To all these kind coadjutors I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness. The names of some occur in connection with their contributions, but I do not name those to whom I am indebted for criticisms or corrections, because I should wish to bear alone the load of my short-comings, rather than to let any of it fall on those who have done their best to lighten it.
It will be seen how largely I am indebted to Sir Joseph Hooker for the means of illustrating my father's life. The readers of these pages will, I think, be grateful to Sir Joseph for the care with which he has preserved his valuable collection of letters, and I should wish to add my acknowledgment of the generosity with which he has placed it at my disposal, and for the kindly encouragement given throughout my work.
To Mr. Huxley I owe a debt of thanks, not only for much kind help, but for his willing compliance with my request that he should contribute a chapter on the reception of the 'Origin of Species.'
Finally, it is a pleasure to acknowledge the courtesy of the publishers of the 'Century Magazine' who have freely given me the use of their illustrations. To Messrs. Maull and Fox and Messrs. Elliott and Fry I am also indebted for their kindness in allowing me the use of reproductions of their photographs.
Cambridge, October, 1887.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
CHAPTER 1.I.—The Darwin Family.
CHAPTER 1.IV.—Cambridge Life—1828-1831.
CHAPTER 1.V.—The Appointment to the 'Beagle'—1831.
CHAPTER 1.VI.—The Voyage—1831-1836.
CHAPTER 1.VII.—London and Cambridge—1836-1842.
CHAPTER 1.IX.—Life at Down—1842-1854.
CHAPTER 1.X.—The Growth of the 'Origin of Species.'
CHAPTER 1.XI.—The Growth of the 'Origin of Species'—Letters—1843-1856.
CHAPTER 1.XII.—The Unfinished Book—May 1856-June 1858.
CHAPTER 1.XIII.—The Writing of the 'Origin of Species'—June 18, 1858- November 1859.
CHAPTER 1.XIV.—Professor Huxley on the Reception of the 'Origin of Species.'
LIFE AND LETTERS OF CHARLES DARWIN.
THE DARWIN FAMILY.
The earliest records of the family show the Darwins to have been substantial yeomen residing on the northern borders of Lincolnshire, close to Yorkshire. The name is now very unusual in England, but I believe that it is not unknown in the neighbourhood of Sheffield and in Lancashire. Down to the year 1600 we find the name spelt in a variety of ways—Derwent, Darwen, Darwynne, etc. It is possible, therefore, that the family migrated at some unknown date from Yorkshire, Cumberland, or Derbyshire, where Derwent occurs as the name of a river.
The first ancestor of whom we know was one William Darwin, who lived, about the year 1500, at Marton, near Gainsborough. His great grandson, Richard Darwyn, inherited land at Marton and elsewhere, and in his will, dated 1584, "bequeathed the sum of 3s. 4d. towards the settynge up of the Queene's Majestie's armes over the quearie (choir) doore in the parishe churche of Marton." (We owe a knowledge of these earlier members of the family to researches amongst the wills at Lincoln, made by the well-known genealogist, Colonel Chester.)
The son of this Richard, named William Darwin, and described as "gentleman," appears to have been a successful man. Whilst retaining his ancestral land at Marton, he acquired through his wife and by purchase an estate at Cleatham, in the parish of Manton, near Kirton Lindsey, and fixed his residence there. This estate remained in the family down to the year 1760. A cottage with thick walls, some fish-ponds and old trees, now alone show where the "Old Hall" once stood, and a field is still locally known as the "Darwin Charity," from being subject to a charge in favour of the poor of Marton. William Darwin must, at least in part, have owed his rise in station to his appointment in 1613 by James I. to the post of Yeoman of the Royal Armoury of Greenwich. The office appears to have been worth only 33 pounds a year, and the duties were probably almost nominal; he held the post down to his death during the Civil Wars.
The fact that this William was a royal servant may explain why his son, also named William, served when almost a boy for the King, as "Captain- Lieutenant" in Sir William Pelham's troop of horse. On the partial dispersion of the royal armies, and the retreat of the remainder to Scotland, the boy's estates were sequestrated by the Parliament, but they were redeemed on his signing the Solemn League and Covenant, and on his paying a fine which must have struck his finances severely; for in a petition to Charles II. he speaks of his almost utter ruin from having adhered to the royal cause.
During the Commonwealth, William Darwin became a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, and this circumstance probably led to his marriage with the daughter of Erasmus Earle, serjeant-at-law; hence his great-grandson, Erasmus Darwin, the Poet, derived his Christian name. He ultimately became Recorder of the city of Lincoln.
The eldest son of the Recorder, again called William, was born in 1655, and married the heiress of Robert Waring, a member of a good Staffordshire family. This lady inherited from the family of Lassells, or Lascelles, the manor and hall of Elston, near Newark, which has remained ever since in the family. (Captain Lassells, or Lascelles, of Elston was military secretary to Monk, Duke of Albemarle, during the Civil Wars. A large volume of account books, countersigned in many places by Monk, are now in the possession of my cousin Francis Darwin. The accounts might possibly prove of interest to the antiquarian or historian. A portrait of Captain Lassells in armour, although used at one time as an archery-target by some small boys of our name, was not irretrievably ruined.) A portrait of this William Darwin at Elston shows him as a good-looking young man in a full- bottomed wig.
This third William had two sons, William, and Robert who was educated as a barrister. The Cleatham property was left to William, but on the termination of his line in daughters reverted to the younger brother, who had received Elston. On his mother's death Robert gave up his profession and resided ever afterwards at Elston Hall. Of this Robert, Charles Darwin writes (What follows is quoted from Charles Darwin's biography of his grandfather, forming the preliminary notice to Ernst Krause's interesting essay, 'Erasmus Darwin,' London, 1879, page 4.):—
"He seems to have had some taste for science, for he was an early member of the well-known Spalding Club; and the celebrated antiquary Dr. Stukeley, in 'An Account of the almost entire Sceleton of a large Animal,' etc., published in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' April and May 1719, begins the paper as follows: 'Having an account from my friend Robert Darwin, Esq., of Lincoln's Inn, a person of curiosity, of a human sceleton impressed in stone, found lately by the rector of Elston,' etc. Stukeley then speaks of it as a great rarity, 'the like whereof has not been observed before in this island to my knowledge.' Judging from a sort of litany written by Robert, and handed down in the family, he was a strong advocate of temperance, which his son ever afterwards so strongly advocated:—
>From a morning that doth shine, >From a boy that drinketh wine, >From a wife that talketh Latine, Good Lord deliver me!
"It is suspected that the third line may be accounted for by his wife, the mother of Erasmus, having been a very learned lady. The eldest son of Robert, christened Robert Waring, succeeded to the estate of Elston, and died there at the age of ninety-two, a bachelor. He had a strong taste for poetry, like his youngest brother Erasmus. Robert also cultivated botany, and, when an oldish man, he published his 'Principia Botanica.' This book in MS. was beautifully written, and my father [Dr. R.W. Darwin] declared that he believed it was published because his old uncle could not endure that such fine caligraphy should be wasted. But this was hardly just, as the work contains many curious notes on biology—a subject wholly neglected in England in the last century. The public, moreover, appreciated the book, as the copy in my possession is the third edition."
The second son, William Alvey, inherited Elston, and transmitted it to his granddaughter, the late Mrs. Darwin, of Elston and Creskeld. A third son, John, became rector of Elston, the living being in the gift of the family. The fourth son, the youngest child, was Erasmus Darwin, the poet and philosopher.
TABLE OF RELATIONSHIP. (An incomplete list of family members.)
ROBERT DARWIN of Elston, 1682-1754, had three sons, William Alvey Darwin, 1726-1783, Robert Waring Darwin, 1724-1816, and Erasmus Darwin, 1731-1802.
William Alvey Darwin, 1726-1783, had a son, William Brown Darwin, 1774- 1841, and a daughter, Anne Darwin.
William Brown Darwin, 1774-1841, had two daughters, Charlotte Darwin and Sarah Darwin.
Charlotte Darwin married Francis Rhodes, now Francis Darwin of Creskeld and Elston.
Sarah Darwin married Edward Noel.
Anne Darwin married Samuel Fox and had a son, William Darwin Fox.
ERASMUS DARWIN, 1731-1802, married (1) MARY HOWARD, 1740-1770, with whom he had two sons, Charles Darwin, 1758-1778, and ROBERT WARING DARWIN, and (2) Eliz. Chandos-Pole, 1747-1832, with whom he had a daughter, Violetta Darwin, and a son, Francis Sacheverel Darwin.
ROBERT WARING DARWIN, 1767-1848, married SUSANNAH WEDGWOOD and had a son, CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN, b. February 12, 1809, d. April 19, 1882.
Violetta Darwin married Samuel Tertius Galton and had a son, Francis Galton.
Francis Sacheverel Darwin, 1786-1859, had two sons, Reginald Darwin and Edward Darwin, "High Elms."
The table above shows Charles Darwin's descent from Robert, and his relationship to some other members of the family, whose names occur in his correspondence. Among these are included William Darwin Fox, one of his earliest correspondents, and Francis Galton, with whom he maintained a warm friendship for many years. Here also occurs the name of Francis Sacheverel Darwin, who inherited a love of natural history from Erasmus, and transmitted it to his son Edward Darwin, author (under the name of "High Elms") of a 'Gamekeeper's Manual' (4th Edition 1863), which shows keen observation of the habits of various animals.
It is always interesting to see how far a man's personal characteristics can be traced in his forefathers. Charles Darwin inherited the tall stature, but not the bulky figure of Erasmus; but in his features there is no traceable resemblance to those of his grandfather. Nor, it appears, had Erasmus the love of exercise and of field-sports, so characteristic of Charles Darwin as a young man, though he had, like his grandson, an indomitable love of hard mental work. Benevolence and sympathy with others, and a great personal charm of manner, were common to the two. Charles Darwin possessed, in the highest degree, that "vividness of imagination" of which he speaks as strongly characteristic of Erasmus, and as leading "to his overpowering tendency to theorise and generalise." This tendency, in the case of Charles Darwin, was fully kept in check by the determination to test his theories to the utmost. Erasmus had a strong love of all kinds of mechanism, for which Charles Darwin had no taste. Neither had Charles Darwin the literary temperament which made Erasmus a poet as well as a philosopher. He writes of Erasmus ('Life of Erasmus Darwin,' page 68.): "Throughout his letters I have been struck with his indifference to fame, and the complete absence of all signs of any over- estimation of his own abilities, or of the success of his works." These, indeed, seem indications of traits most strikingly prominent in his own character. Yet we get no evidence in Erasmus of the intense modesty and simplicity that marked Charles Darwin's whole nature. But by the quick bursts of anger provoked in Erasmus, at the sight of any inhumanity or injustice, we are again reminded of him.
On the whole, however, it seems to me that we do not know enough of the essential personal tone of Erasmus Darwin's character to attempt more than a superficial comparison; and I am left with an impression that, in spite of many resemblances, the two men were of a different type. It has been shown that Miss Seward and Mrs. Schimmelpenninck have misrepresented Erasmus Darwin's character. (Ibid., pages 77, 79, etc.) It is, however, extremely probable that the faults which they exaggerate were to some extent characteristic of the man; and this leads me to think that Erasmus had a certain acerbity or severity of temper which did not exist in his grandson.
The sons of Erasmus Darwin inherited in some degree his intellectual tastes, for Charles Darwin writes of them as follows:
"His eldest son, Charles (born September 3, 1758), was a young man of extraordinary promise, but died (May 15, 1778) before he was twenty-one years old, from the effects of a wound received whilst dissecting the brain of a child. He inherited from his father a strong taste for various branches of science, for writing verses, and for mechanics...He also inherited stammering. With the hope of curing him, his father sent him to France, when about eight years old (1766-'67), with a private tutor, thinking that if he was not allowed to speak English for a time, the habit of stammering might be lost; and it is a curious fact, that in after years, when speaking French, he never stammered. At a very early age he collected specimens of all kinds. When sixteen years old he was sent for a year to [Christ Church] Oxford, but he did not like the place, and thought (in the words of his father) that the 'vigour of his mind languished in the pursuit of classical elegance like Hercules at the distaff, and sighed to be removed to the robuster exercise of the medical school of Edinburgh.' He stayed three years at Edinburgh, working hard at his medical studies, and attending 'with diligence all the sick poor of the parish of Waterleith, and supplying them with the necessary medicines.' The Aesculapian Society awarded him its first gold medal for an experimental inquiry on pus and mucus. Notices of him appeared in various journals; and all the writers agree about his uncommon energy and abilities. He seems like his father to have excited the warm affection of his friends. Professor Andrew Duncan... spoke...about him with the warmest affection forty-seven years after his death when I was a young medical student at Edinburgh...
"About the character of his second son, Erasmus (born 1759), I have little to say, for though he wrote poetry, he seems to have had none of the other tastes of his father. He had, however, his own peculiar tastes, viz., genealogy, the collecting of coins, and statistics. When a boy he counted all the houses in the city of Lichfield, and found out the number of inhabitants in as many as he could; he thus made a census, and when a real one was first made, his estimate was found to be nearly accurate. His disposition was quiet and retiring. My father had a very high opinion of his abilities, and this was probably just, for he would not otherwise have been invited to travel with, and pay long visits to, men so distinguished in different ways as Boulton the engineer, and Day the moralist and novelist." His death by suicide, in 1799, seems to have taken place in a state of incipient insanity.
Robert Waring, the father of Charles Darwin, was born May 30, 1766, and entered the medical profession like his father. He studied for a few months at Leyden, and took his M.D. (I owe this information to the kindness of Professor Rauwenhoff, Director of the Archives at Leyden. He quotes from the catalogue of doctors that "Robertus Waring Darwin, Anglo- britannus," defended (February 26, 1785) in the Senate a Dissertation on the coloured images seen after looking at a bright object, and "Medicinae Doctor creatus est a clar. Paradijs." The archives of Leyden University are so complete that Professor Rauwenhoff is able to tell me that my grandfather lived together with a certain "Petrus Crompton, Anglus," in lodgings in the Apothekersdijk. Dr. Darwin's Leyden dissertation was published in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' and my father used to say that the work was in fact due to Erasmus Darwin.—F.D.) at that University on February 26, 1785. "His father" (Erasmus) "brought ('Life of Erasmus Darwin,' page 85.) him to Shrewsbury before he was twenty-one years old (1787), and left him 20 pounds, saying, 'Let me know when you want more, and I will send it you.' His uncle, the rector of Elston, afterwards also sent him 20 pounds, and this was the sole pecuniary aid which he ever received...Erasmus tells Mr. Edgeworth that his son Robert, after being settled in Shrewsbury for only six months, 'already had between forty and fifty patients.' By the second year he was in considerable, and ever afterwards in very large, practice."
Robert Waring Darwin married (April 18, 1796) Susannah, the daughter of his father's friend, Josiah Wedgwood, of Etruria, then in her thirty-second year. We have a miniature of her, with a remarkably sweet and happy face, bearing some resemblance to the portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds of her father; a countenance expressive of the gentle and sympathetic nature which Miss Meteyard ascribes to her. ('A Group of Englishmen,' by Miss Meteyard, 1871.) She died July 15, 1817, thirty-two years before her husband, whose death occurred on November 13, 1848. Dr. Darwin lived before his marriage for two or three years on St. John's Hill; afterwards at the Crescent, where his eldest daughter Marianne was born; lastly at the "Mount," in the part of Shrewsbury known as Frankwell, where the other children were born. This house was built by Dr. Darwin about 1800, it is now in the possession of Mr. Spencer Phillips, and has undergone but little alteration. It is a large, plain, square, red-brick house, of which the most attractive feature is the pretty green-house, opening out of the morning-room.
The house is charmingly placed, on the top of a steep bank leading down to the Severn. The terraced bank is traversed by a long walk, leading from end to end, still called "the Doctor's Walk." At one point in this walk grows a Spanish chestnut, the branches of which bend back parallel to themselves in a curious manner, and this was Charles Darwin's favourite tree as a boy, where he and his sister Catherine had each their special seat.
The Doctor took a great pleasure in his garden, planting it with ornamental trees and shrubs, and being especially successful in fruit-trees; and this love of plants was, I think, the only taste kindred to natural history which he possessed. Of the "Mount pigeons," which Miss Meteyard describes as illustrating Dr. Darwin's natural-history taste, I have not been able to hear from those most capable of knowing. Miss Meteyard's account of him is not quite accurate in a few points. For instance, it is incorrect to describe Dr. Darwin as having a philosophical mind; his was a mind especially given to detail, and not to generalising. Again, those who knew him intimately describe him as eating remarkably little, so that he was not "a great feeder, eating a goose for his dinner, as easily as other men do a partridge." ('A Group of Englishmen,' page 263.) In the matter of dress he was conservative, and wore to the end of his life knee-breeches and drab gaiters, which, however, certainly did not, as Miss Meteyard says, button above the knee—a form of costume chiefly known to us in grenadiers of Queen Anne's day, and in modern wood-cutters and ploughboys.
Charles Darwin had the strongest feeling of love and respect for his father's memory. His recollection of everything that was connected with him was peculiarly distinct, and he spoke of him frequently; generally prefacing an anecdote with some such phrase as, "My father, who was the wisest man I ever knew, etc..." It was astonishing how clearly he remembered his father's opinions, so that he was able to quote some maxims or hint of his in most cases of illness. As a rule, he put small faith in doctors, and thus his unlimited belief in Dr. Darwin's medical instinct and methods of treatment was all the more striking.
His reverence for him was boundless and most touching. He would have wished to judge everything else in the world dispassionately, but anything his father had said was received with almost implicit faith. His daughter Mrs. Litchfield remembers him saying that he hoped none of his sons would ever believe anything because he said it, unless they were themselves convinced of its truth,—a feeling in striking contrast with his own manner of faith.
A visit which Charles Darwin made to Shrewsbury in 1869 left on the mind of his daughter who accompanied him a strong impression of his love for his old home. The then tenant of the Mount showed them over the house, etc., and with mistaken hospitality remained with the party during the whole visit. As they were leaving, Charles Darwin said, with a pathetic look of regret, "If I could have been left alone in that green-house for five minutes, I know I should have been able to see my father in his wheel-chair as vividly as if he had been there before me."
Perhaps this incident shows what I think is the truth, that the memory of his father he loved the best, was that of him as an old man. Mrs. Litchfield has noted down a few words which illustrate well his feeling towards his father. She describes him as saying with the most tender respect, "I think my father was a little unjust to me when I was young, but afterwards I am thankful to think I became a prime favourite with him." She has a vivid recollection of the expression of happy reverie that accompanied these words, as if he were reviewing the whole relation, and the remembrance left a deep sense of peace and gratitude.
What follows was added by Charles Darwin to his autobiographical 'Recollections,' and was written about 1877 or 1878.
"I may here add a few pages about my father, who was in many ways a remarkable man.
"He was about 6 feet 2 inches in height, with broad shoulders, and very corpulent, so that he was the largest man whom I ever saw. When he last weighed himself, he was 24 stone, but afterwards increased much in weight. His chief mental characteristics were his powers of observation and his sympathy, neither of which have I ever seen exceeded or even equalled. His sympathy was not only with the distresses of others, but in a greater degree with the pleasures of all around him. This led him to be always scheming to give pleasure to others, and, though hating extravagance, to perform many generous actions. For instance, Mr. B—, a small manufacturer in Shrewsbury, came to him one day, and said he should be bankrupt unless he could at once borrow 10,000 pounds, but that he was unable to give any legal security. My father heard his reasons for believing that he could ultimately repay the money, and from [his] intuitive perception of character felt sure that he was to be trusted. So he advanced this sum, which was a very large one for him while young, and was after a time repaid.
"I suppose that it was his sympathy which gave him unbounded power of winning confidence, and as a consequence made him highly successful as a physician. He began to practise before he was twenty-one years old, and his fees during the first year paid for the keep of two horses and a servant. On the following year his practice was large, and so continued for about sixty years, when he ceased to attend on any one. His great success as a doctor was the more remarkable, as he told me that he at first hated his profession so much that if he had been sure of the smallest pittance, or if his father had given him any choice, nothing should have induced him to follow it. To the end of his life, the thought of an operation almost sickened him, and he could scarcely endure to see a person bled—a horror which he has transmitted to me—and I remember the horror which I felt as a schoolboy in reading about Pliny (I think) bleeding to death in a warm bath...
"Owing to my father's power of winning confidence, many patients, especially ladies, consulted him when suffering from any misery, as a sort of Father-Confessor. He told me that they always began by complaining in a vague manner about their health, and by practice he soon guessed what was really the matter. He then suggested that they had been suffering in their minds, and now they would pour out their troubles, and he heard nothing more about the body...Owing to my father's skill in winning confidence he received many strange confessions of misery and guilt. He often remarked how many miserable wives he had known. In several instances husbands and wives had gone on pretty well together for between twenty and thirty years, and then hated each other bitterly; this he attributed to their having lost a common bond in their young children having grown up.
"But the most remarkable power which my father possessed was that of reading the characters, and even the thoughts of those whom he saw even for a short time. We had many instances of the power, some of which seemed almost supernatural. It saved my father from ever making (with one exception, and the character of this man was soon discovered) an unworthy friend. A strange clergyman came to Shrewsbury, and seemed to be a rich man; everybody called on him, and he was invited to many houses. My father called, and on his return home told my sisters on no account to invite him or his family to our house; for he felt sure that the man was not to be trusted. After a few months he suddenly bolted, being heavily in debt, and was found out to be little better than an habitual swindler. Here is a case of trustfulness which not many men would have ventured on. An Irish gentleman, a complete stranger, called on my father one day, and said that he had lost his purse, and that it would be a serious inconvenience to him to wait in Shrewsbury until he could receive a remittance from Ireland. He then asked my father to lend him 20 pounds, which was immediately done, as my father felt certain that the story was a true one. As soon as a letter could arrive from Ireland, one came with the most profuse thanks, and enclosing, as he said, a 20 pound Bank of England note, but no note was enclosed. I asked my father whether this did not stagger him, but he answered 'not in the least.' On the next day another letter came with many apologies for having forgotten (like a true Irishman) to put the note into his letter of the day before...(A gentleman) brought his nephew, who was insane but quite gentle, to my father; and the young man's insanity led him to accuse himself of all the crimes under heaven. When my father afterwards talked over the matter with the uncle, he said, 'I am sure that your nephew is really guilty of...a heinous crime.' Whereupon [the gentleman] said, 'Good God, Dr. Darwin, who told you; we thought that no human being knew the fact except ourselves!' My father told me the story many years after the event, and I asked him how he distinguished the true from the false self-accusations; and it was very characteristic of my father that he said he could not explain how it was.
"The following story shows what good guesses my father could make. Lord Shelburne, afterwards the first Marquis of Lansdowne, was famous (as Macaulay somewhere remarks) for his knowledge of the affairs of Europe, on which he greatly prided himself. He consulted my father medically, and afterwards harangued him on the state of Holland. My father had studied medicine at Leyden, and one day [while there] went a long walk into the country with a friend who took him to the house of a clergyman (we will say the Rev. Mr. A—, for I have forgotten his name), who had married an Englishwoman. My father was very hungry, and there was little for luncheon except cheese, which he could never eat. The old lady was surprised and grieved at this, and assured my father that it was an excellent cheese, and had been sent her from Bowood, the seat of Lord Shelburne. My father wondered why a cheese should be sent her from Bowood, but thought nothing more about it until it flashed across his mind many years afterwards, whilst Lord Shelburne was talking about Holland. So he answered, 'I should think from what I saw of the Rev. Mr. A—, that he was a very able man, and well acquainted with the state of Holland.' My father saw that the Earl, who immediately changed the conversation was much startled. On the next morning my father received a note from the Earl, saying that he had delayed starting on his journey, and wished particularly to see my father. When he called, the Earl said, 'Dr. Darwin, it is of the utmost importance to me and to the Rev. Mr. A— to learn how you have discovered that he is the source of my information about Holland.' So my father had to explain the state of the case, and he supposed that Lord Shelburne was much struck with his diplomatic skill in guessing, for during many years afterwards he received many kind messages from him through various friends. I think that he must have told the story to his children; for Sir C. Lyell asked me many years ago why the Marquis of Lansdowne (the son or grand-son of the first marquis) felt so much interest about me, whom he had never seen, and my family. When forty new members (the forty thieves as they were then called) were added to the Athenaeum Club, there was much canvassing to be one of them; and without my having asked any one, Lord Lansdowne proposed me and got me elected. If I am right in my supposition, it was a queer concatenation of events that my father not eating cheese half-a-century before in Holland led to my election as a member of the Athenaeum.
"The sharpness of his observation led him to predict with remarkable skill the course of any illness, and he suggested endless small details of relief. I was told that a young doctor in Shrewsbury, who disliked my father, used to say that he was wholly unscientific, but owned that his power of predicting the end of an illness was unparalleled. Formerly when he thought that I should be a doctor, he talked much to me about his patients. In the old days the practice of bleeding largely was universal, but my father maintained that far more evil was thus caused than good done; and he advised me if ever I was myself ill not to allow any doctor to take more than an extremely small quantity of blood. Long before typhoid fever was recognised as distinct, my father told me that two utterly distinct kinds of illness were confounded under the name of typhus fever. He was vehement against drinking, and was convinced of both the direct and inherited evil effects of alcohol when habitually taken even in moderate quantity in a very large majority of cases. But he admitted and advanced instances of certain persons who could drink largely during their whole lives without apparently suffering any evil effects, and he believed that he could often beforehand tell who would thus not suffer. He himself never drank a drop of any alcoholic fluid. This remark reminds me of a case showing how a witness under the most favourable circumstances may be utterly mistaken. A gentleman-farmer was strongly urged by my father not to drink, and was encouraged by being told that he himself never touched any spirituous liquor. Whereupon the gentleman said, 'Come, come, Doctor, this won't do—though it is very kind of you to say so for my sake—for I know that you take a very large glass of hot gin and water every evening after your dinner.' (This belief still survives, and was mentioned to my brother in 1884 by an old inhabitant of Shrewsbury.—F.D.) So my father asked him how he knew this. The man answered, 'My cook was your kitchen- maid for two or three years, and she saw the butler every day prepare and take to you the gin and water.' The explanation was that my father had the odd habit of drinking hot water in a very tall and large glass after his dinner; and the butler used first to put some cold water in the glass, which the girl mistook for gin, and then filled it up with boiling water from the kitchen boiler.
"My father used to tell me many little things which he had found useful in his medical practice. Thus ladies often cried much while telling him their troubles, and thus caused much loss of his precious time. He soon found that begging them to command and restrain themselves, always made them weep the more, so that afterwards he always encouraged them to go on crying, saying that this would relieve them more than anything else, and with the invariable result that they soon ceased to cry, and he could hear what they had to say and give his advice. When patients who were very ill craved for some strange and unnatural food, my father asked them what had put such an idea into their heads; if they answered that they did not know, he would allow them to try the food, and often with success, as he trusted to their having a kind of instinctive desire; but if they answered that they had heard that the food in question had done good to some one else, he firmly refused his assent.
"He gave one day an odd little specimen of human nature. When a very young man he was called in to consult with the family physician in the case of a gentleman of much distinction in Shropshire. The old doctor told the wife that the illness was of such a nature that it must end fatally. My father took a different view and maintained that the gentleman would recover: he was proved quite wrong in all respects (I think by autopsy) and he owned his error. He was then convinced that he should never again be consulted by this family; but after a few months the widow sent for him, having dismissed the old family doctor. My father was so much surprised at this, that he asked a friend of the widow to find out why he was again consulted. The widow answered her friend, that 'she would never again see the odious old doctor who said from the first that her husband would die, while Dr. Darwin always maintained that he would recover!' In another case my father told a lady that her husband would certainly die. Some months afterwards he saw the widow, who was a very sensible woman, and she said, 'You are a very young man, and allow me to advise you always to give, as long as you possibly can, hope to any near relative nursing a patient. You made me despair, and from that moment I lost strength.' My father said that he had often since seen the paramount importance, for the sake of the patient, of keeping up the hope and with it the strength of the nurse in charge. This he sometimes found difficult to do compatibly with truth. One old gentleman, however, caused him no such perplexity. He was sent for by Mr.P—, who said, 'From all that I have seen and heard of you I believe that you are the sort of man who will speak the truth, and if I ask, you will tell me when I am dying. Now I much desire that you should attend me, if you will promise, whatever I may say, always to declare that I am not going to die.' My father acquiesced on the understanding that his words should in fact have no meaning.
"My father possessed an extraordinary memory, especially for dates, so that he knew, when he was very old, the day of the birth, marriage, and death of a multitude of persons in Shropshire; and he once told me that this power annoyed him; for if he once heard a date, he could not forget it; and thus the deaths of many friends were often recalled to his mind. Owing to his strong memory he knew an extraordinary number of curious stories, which he liked to tell, as he was a great talker. He was generally in high spirits, and laughed and joked with every one—often with his servants—with the utmost freedom; yet he had the art of making every one obey him to the letter. Many persons were much afraid of him. I remember my father telling us one day, with a laugh, that several persons had asked him whether Miss —, a grand old lady in Shropshire, had called on him, so that at last he enquired why they asked him; and he was told that Miss —, whom my father had somehow mortally offended, was telling everybody that she would call and tell 'that fat old doctor very plainly what she thought of him.' She had already called, but her courage had failed, and no one could have been more courteous and friendly. As a boy, I went to stay at the house of —, whose wife was insane; and the poor creature, as soon as she saw me, was in the most abject state of terror that I ever saw, weeping bitterly and asking me over and over again, 'Is your father coming?' but was soon pacified. On my return home, I asked my father why she was so frightened, and he answered he was very glad to hear it, as he had frightened her on purpose, feeling sure that she would be kept in safety and much happier without any restraint, if her husband could influence her, whenever she became at all violent, by proposing to send for Dr. Darwin; and these words succeeded perfectly during the rest of her long life.
"My father was very sensitive, so that many small events annoyed him or pained him much. I once asked him, when he was old and could not walk, why he did not drive out for exercise; and he answered, 'Every road out of Shrewsbury is associated in my mind with some painful event.' Yet he was generally in high spirits. He was easily made very angry, but his kindness was unbounded. He was widely and deeply loved.
"He was a cautious and good man of business, so that he hardly ever lost money by an investment, and left to his children a very large property. I remember a story showing how easily utterly false beliefs originate and spread. Mr. E —, a squire of one of the oldest families in Shropshire, and head partner in a bank, committed suicide. My father was sent for as a matter of form, and found him dead. I may mention, by the way, to show how matters were managed in those old days, that because Mr. E — was a rather great man, and universally respected, no inquest was held over his body. My father, in returning home, thought it proper to call at the bank (where he had an account) to tell the managing partners of the event, as it was not improbable that it would cause a run on the bank. Well, the story was spread far and wide, that my father went into the bank, drew out all his money, left the bank, came back again, and said, 'I may just tell you that Mr. E — has killed himself,' and then departed. It seems that it was then a common belief that money withdrawn from a bank was not safe until the person had passed out through the door of the bank. My father did not hear this story till some little time afterwards, when the managing partner said that he had departed from his invariable rule of never allowing any one to see the account of another man, by having shown the ledger with my father's account to several persons, as this proved that my father had not drawn out a penny on that day. It would have been dishonourable in my father to have used his professional knowledge for his private advantage. Nevertheless, the supposed act was greatly admired by some persons; and many years afterwards, a gentleman remarked, 'Ah, Doctor, what a splendid man of business you were in so cleverly getting all your money safe out of that bank!'
"My father's mind was not scientific, and he did not try to generalize his knowledge under general laws; yet he formed a theory for almost everything which occurred. I do not think I gained much from him intellectually; but his example ought to have been of much moral service to all his children. One of his golden rules (a hard one to follow) was, 'Never become the friend of any one whom you cannot respect.'"
Dr. Darwin had six children (Of these Mrs. Wedgwood is now the sole survivor.): Marianne, married Dr. Henry Parker; Caroline, married Josiah Wedgwood; Erasmus Alvey; Susan, died unmarried; Charles Robert; Catherine, married Rev. Charles Langton.
The elder son, Erasmus, was born in 1804, and died unmarried at the age of seventy-seven.
He, like his brother, was educated at Shrewsbury School and at Christ's College, Cambridge. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and in London, and took the degree of Bachelor of Medicine at Cambridge. He never made any pretence of practising as a doctor, and, after leaving Cambridge, lived a quiet life in London.
There was something pathetic in Charles Darwin's affection for his brother Erasmus, as if he always recollected his solitary life, and the touching patience and sweetness of his nature. He often spoke of him as "Poor old Ras," or "Poor dear old Philos"—I imagine Philos (Philosopher) was a relic of the days when they worked at chemistry in the tool-house at Shrewsbury— a time of which he always preserved a pleasant memory. Erasmus being rather more than four years older than Charles Darwin, they were not long together at Cambridge, but previously at Edinburgh they lived in the same lodgings, and after the Voyage they lived for a time together in Erasmus' house in Great Marlborough Street. At this time also he often speaks with much affection of Erasmus in his letters to Fox, using words such as "my dear good old brother." In later years Erasmus Darwin came to Down occasionally, or joined his brother's family in a summer holiday. But gradually it came about that he could not, through ill health, make up his mind to leave London, and then they only saw each other when Charles Darwin went for a week at a time to his brother's house in Queen Anne Street.
The following note on his brother's character was written by Charles Darwin at about the same time that the sketch of his father was added to the 'Recollections.':—
"My brother Erasmus possessed a remarkably clear mind with extensive and diversified tastes and knowledge in literature, art, and even in science. For a short time he collected and dried plants, and during a somewhat longer time experimented in chemistry. He was extremely agreeable, and his wit often reminded me of that in the letters and works of Charles Lamb. He was very kind-hearted...His health from his boyhood had been weak, and as a consequence he failed in energy. His spirits were not high, sometimes low, more especially during early and middle manhood. He read much, even whilst a boy, and at school encouraged me to read, lending me books. Our minds and tastes were, however, so different, that I do not think I owe much to him intellectually. I am inclined to agree with Francis Galton in believing that education and environment produce only a small effect on the mind of any one, and that most of our qualities are innate."
Erasmus Darwin's name, though not known to the general public, may be remembered from the sketch of his character in Carlyle's 'Reminiscences,' which I here reproduce in part:—
"Erasmus Darwin, a most diverse kind of mortal, came to seek us out very soon ('had heard of Carlyle in Germany, etc.') and continues ever since to be a quiet house-friend, honestly attached; though his visits latterly have been rarer and rarer, health so poor, I so occupied, etc., etc. He had something of original and sarcastically ingenious in him, one of the sincerest, naturally truest, and most modest of men; elder brother of Charles Darwin (the famed Darwin on Species of these days) to whom I rather prefer him for intellect, had not his health quite doomed him to silence and patient idleness...My dear one had a great favour for this honest Darwin always; many a road, to shops and the like, he drove her in his cab (Darwingium Cabbum comparable to Georgium Sidus) in those early days when even the charge of omnibuses was a consideration, and his sparse utterances, sardonic often, were a great amusement to her. 'A perfect gentleman,' she at once discerned him to be, and of sound worth and kindliness in the most unaffected form." (Carlyle's 'Reminiscences,' vol. ii. page 208.)
Charles Darwin did not appreciate this sketch of his brother; he thought Carlyle had missed the essence of his most lovable nature.
I am tempted by the wish of illustrating further the character of one so sincerely beloved by all Charles Darwin's children, to reproduce a letter to the "Spectator" (September 3, 1881) by his cousin Miss Julia Wedgwood.
"A portrait from Mr. Carlyle's portfolio not regretted by any who loved the original, surely confers sufficient distinction to warrant a few words of notice, when the character it depicts is withdrawn from mortal gaze. Erasmus, the only brother of Charles Darwin, and the faithful and affectionate old friend of both the Carlyles, has left a circle of mourners who need no tribute from illustrious pen to embalm the memory so dear to their hearts; but a wider circle must have felt some interest excited by that tribute, and may receive with a certain attention the record of a unique and indelible impression, even though it be made only on the hearts of those who cannot bequeath it, and with whom, therefore, it must speedily pass away. They remember it with the same distinctness as they remember a creation of genius; it has in like manner enriched and sweetened life, formed a common meeting-point for those who had no other; and, in its strong fragrance of individuality, enforced that respect for the idiosyncracies of human character without which moral judgment is always hard and shallow, and often unjust. Carlyle was one to find a peculiar enjoyment in the combination of liveliness and repose which gave his friend's society an influence at once stimulating and soothing, and the warmth of his appreciation was not made known first in its posthumous expression; his letters of anxiety nearly thirty years ago, when the frail life which has been prolonged to old age was threatened by serious illness, are still fresh in my memory. The friendship was equally warm with both husband and wife. I remember well a pathetic little remonstrance from her elicited by an avowal from Erasmus Darwin, that he preferred cats to dogs, which she felt a slur on her little 'Nero;' and the tones in which she said, 'Oh, but you are fond of dogs! you are too kind not to be,' spoke of a long vista of small, gracious kindnesses, remembered with a tender gratitude. He was intimate also with a person whose friends, like those of Mr. Carlyle, have not always had cause to congratulate themselves on their place in her gallery,—Harriet Martineau. I have heard him more than once call her a faithful friend, and it always seemed to me a curious tribute to something in the friendship that he alone supplied; but if she had written of him at all, I believe the mention, in its heartiness of appreciation, would have afforded a rare and curious meeting-point with the other 'Reminiscences,' so like and yet so unlike. It is not possible to transfer the impression of a character; we can only suggest it by means of some resemblance; and it is a singular illustration of that irony which checks or directs our sympathies, that in trying to give some notion of the man whom, among those who were not his kindred, Carlyle appears to have most loved, I can say nothing more descriptive than that he seems to me to have had something in common with the man whom Carlyle least appreciated. The society of Erasmus Darwin had, to my mind, much the same charm as the writings of Charles Lamb. There was the same kind of playfulness, the same lightness of touch, the same tenderness, perhaps the same limitations. On another side of his nature, I have often been reminded of him by the quaint, delicate humour, the superficial intolerance, the deep springs of pity, the peculiar mixture of something pathetic with a sort of gay scorn, entirely remote from contempt, which distinguish the Ellesmere of Sir Arthur Helps' earlier dialogues. Perhaps we recall such natures most distinctly, when such a resemblance is all that is left of them. The character is not merged in the creation; and what we lose in the power to communicate our impression, we seem to gain in its vividness. Erasmus Darwin has passed away in old age, yet his memory retains something of a youthful fragrance; his influence gave much happiness, of a kind usually associated with youth, to many lives besides the illustrious one whose records justify, though certainly they do not inspire, the wish to place this fading chaplet on his grave."
The foregoing pages give, in a fragmentary manner, as much perhaps as need be told of the family from which Charles Darwin came, and may serve as an introduction to the autobiographical chapter which follows.
[My father's autobiographical recollections, given in the present chapter, were written for his children,—and written without any thought that they would ever be published. To many this may seem an impossibility; but those who knew my father will understand how it was not only possible, but natural. The autobiography bears the heading, 'Recollections of the Development of my Mind and Character,' and end with the following note:— "Aug.3, 1876. This sketch of my life was begun about May 28th at Hopedene (Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood's house in Surrey.), and since then I have written for nearly an hour on most afternoons." It will easily be understood that, in a narrative of a personal and intimate kind written for his wife and children, passages should occur which must here be omitted; and I have not thought it necessary to indicate where such omissions are made. It has been found necessary to make a few corrections of obvious verbal slips, but the number of such alterations has been kept down to the minimum.—F.D.]
A German Editor having written to me for an account of the development of my mind and character with some sketch of my autobiography, I have thought that the attempt would amuse me, and might possibly interest my children or their children. I know that it would have interested me greatly to have read even so short and dull a sketch of the mind of my grandfather, written by himself, and what he thought and did, and how he worked. I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.
I was born at Shrewsbury on February 12th, 1809, and my earliest recollection goes back only to when I was a few months over four years old, when we went to near Abergele for sea-bathing, and I recollect some events and places there with some little distinctness.
My mother died in July 1817, when I was a little over eight years old, and it is odd that I can remember hardly anything about her except her death- bed, her black velvet gown, and her curiously constructed work-table. In the spring of this same year I was sent to a day-school in Shrewsbury, where I stayed a year. I have been told that I was much slower in learning than my younger sister Catherine, and I believe that I was in many ways a naughty boy.
By the time I went to this day-school (Kept by Rev. G. Case, minister of the Unitarian Chapel in the High Street. Mrs. Darwin was a Unitarian and attended Mr. Case's chapel, and my father as a little boy went there with his elder sisters. But both he and his brother were christened and intended to belong to the Church of England; and after his early boyhood he seems usually to have gone to church and not to Mr. Case's. It appears ("St. James' Gazette", Dec. 15, 1883) that a mural tablet has been erected to his memory in the chapel, which is now known as the 'Free Christian Church.') my taste for natural history, and more especially for collecting, was well developed. I tried to make out the names of plants (Rev. W.A. Leighton, who was a schoolfellow of my father's at Mr. Case's school, remembers his bringing a flower to school and saying that his mother had taught him how by looking at the inside of the blossom the name of the plant could be discovered. Mr. Leighton goes on, "This greatly roused my attention and curiosity, and I enquired of him repeatedly how this could be done?"—but his lesson was naturally enough not transmissible.—F.D.), and collected all sorts of things, shells, seals, franks, coins, and minerals. The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brother ever had this taste.
One little event during this year has fixed itself very firmly in my mind, and I hope that it has done so from my conscience having been afterwards sorely troubled by it; it is curious as showing that apparently I was interested at this early age in the variability of plants! I told another little boy (I believe it was Leighton, who afterwards became a well-known lichenologist and botanist), that I could produce variously coloured polyanthuses and primroses by watering them with certain coloured fluids, which was of course a monstrous fable, and had never been tried by me. I may here also confess that as a little boy I was much given to inventing deliberate falsehoods, and this was always done for the sake of causing excitement. For instance, I once gathered much valuable fruit from my father's trees and hid it in the shrubbery, and then ran in breathless haste to spread the news that I had discovered a hoard of stolen fruit.
I must have been a very simple little fellow when I first went to the school. A boy of the name of Garnett took me into a cake shop one day, and bought some cakes for which he did not pay, as the shopman trusted him. When we came out I asked him why he did not pay for them, and he instantly answered, "Why, do you not know that my uncle left a great sum of money to the town on condition that every tradesman should give whatever was wanted without payment to any one who wore his old hat and moved [it] in a particular manner?" and he then showed me how it was moved. He then went into another shop where he was trusted, and asked for some small article, moving his hat in the proper manner, and of course obtained it without payment. When we came out he said, "Now if you like to go by yourself into that cake-shop (how well I remember its exact position) I will lend you my hat, and you can get whatever you like if you move the hat on your head properly." I gladly accepted the generous offer, and went in and asked for some cakes, moved the old hat and was walking out of the shop, when the shopman made a rush at me, so I dropped the cakes and ran for dear life, and was astonished by being greeted with shouts of laughter by my false friend Garnett.
I can say in my own favour that I was as a boy humane, but I owed this entirely to the instruction and example of my sisters. I doubt indeed whether humanity is a natural or innate quality. I was very fond of collecting eggs, but I never took more than a single egg out of a bird's nest, except on one single occasion, when I took all, not for their value, but from a sort of bravado.
I had a strong taste for angling, and would sit for any number of hours on the bank of a river or pond watching the float; when at Maer (The house of his uncle, Josiah Wedgwood.) I was told that I could kill the worms with salt and water, and from that day I never spitted a living worm, though at the expense probably of some loss of success.
Once as a very little boy whilst at the day school, or before that time, I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy, I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power; but the beating could not have been severe, for the puppy did not howl, of which I feel sure, as the spot was near the house. This act lay heavily on my conscience, as is shown by my remembering the exact spot where the crime was committed. It probably lay all the heavier from my love of dogs being then, and for a long time afterwards, a passion. Dogs seemed to know this, for I was an adept in robbing their love from their masters.
I remember clearly only one other incident during this year whilst at Mr. Case's daily school,—namely, the burial of a dragoon soldier; and it is surprising how clearly I can still see the horse with the man's empty boots and carbine suspended to the saddle, and the firing over the grave. This scene deeply stirred whatever poetic fancy there was in me.
In the summer of 1818 I went to Dr. Butler's great school in Shrewsbury, and remained there for seven years still Midsummer 1825, when I was sixteen years old. I boarded at this school, so that I had the great advantage of living the life of a true schoolboy; but as the distance was hardly more than a mile to my home, I very often ran there in the longer intervals between the callings over and before locking up at night. This, I think, was in many ways advantageous to me by keeping up home affections and interests. I remember in the early part of my school life that I often had to run very quickly to be in time, and from being a fleet runner was generally successful; but when in doubt I prayed earnestly to God to help me, and I well remember that I attributed my success to the prayers and not to my quick running, and marvelled how generally I was aided.
I have heard my father and elder sister say that I had, as a very young boy, a strong taste for long solitary walks; but what I thought about I know not. I often became quite absorbed, and once, whilst returning to school on the summit of the old fortifications round Shrewsbury, which had been converted into a public foot-path with no parapet on one side, I walked off and fell to the ground, but the height was only seven or eight feet. Nevertheless the number of thoughts which passed through my mind during this very short, but sudden and wholly unexpected fall, was astonishing, and seem hardly compatible with what physiologists have, I believe, proved about each thought requiring quite an appreciable amount of time.
Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr. Butler's school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught, except a little ancient geography and history. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank. During my whole life I have been singularly incapable of mastering any language. Especial attention was paid to verse-making, and this I could never do well. I had many friends, and got together a good collection of old verses, which by patching together, sometimes aided by other boys, I could work into any subject. Much attention was paid to learning by heart the lessons of the previous day; this I could effect with great facility, learning forty or fifty lines of Virgil or Homer, whilst I was in morning chapel; but this exercise was utterly useless, for every verse was forgotten in forty-eight hours. I was not idle, and with the exception of versification, generally worked conscientiously at my classics, not using cribs. The sole pleasure I ever received from such studies, was from some of the odes of Horace, which I admired greatly.
When I left the school I was for my age neither high nor low in it; and I believe that I was considered by all my masters and by my father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect. To my deep mortification my father once said to me, "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family." But my father, who was the kindest man I ever knew and whose memory I love with all my heart, must have been angry and somewhat unjust when he used such words.
Looking back as well as I can at my character during my school life, the only qualities which at this period promised well for the future, were, that I had strong and diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, and a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing. I was taught Euclid by a private tutor, and I distinctly remember the intense satisfaction which the clear geometrical proofs gave me. I remember, with equal distinctness, the delight which my uncle gave me (the father of Francis Galton) by explaining the principle of the vernier of a barometer. with respect to diversified tastes, independently of science, I was fond of reading various books, and I used to sit for hours reading the historical plays of Shakespeare, generally in an old window in the thick walls of the school. I read also other poetry, such as Thomson's 'Seasons,' and the recently published poems of Byron and Scott. I mention this because later in life I wholly lost, to my great regret, all pleasure from poetry of any kind, including Shakespeare. In connection with pleasure from poetry, I may add that in 1822 a vivid delight in scenery was first awakened in my mind, during a riding tour on the borders of Wales, and this has lasted longer than any other aesthetic pleasure.
Early in my school days a boy had a copy of the 'Wonders of the World,' which I often read, and disputed with other boys about the veracity of some of the statements; and I believe that this book first gave me a wish to travel in remote countries, which was ultimately fulfilled by the voyage of the "Beagle". In the latter part of my school life I became passionately fond of shooting; I do not believe that any one could have shown more zeal for the most holy cause than I did for shooting birds. How well I remember killing my first snipe, and my excitement was so great that I had much difficulty in reloading my gun from the trembling of my hands. This taste long continued, and I became a very good shot. When at Cambridge I used to practise throwing up my gun to my shoulder before a looking-glass to see that I threw it up straight. Another and better plan was to get a friend to wave about a lighted candle, and then to fire at it with a cap on the nipple, and if the aim was accurate the little puff of air would blow out the candle. The explosion of the cap caused a sharp crack, and I was told that the tutor of the college remarked, "What an extraordinary thing it is, Mr. Darwin seems to spend hours in cracking a horse-whip in his room, for I often hear the crack when I pass under his windows."
I had many friends amongst the schoolboys, whom I loved dearly, and I think that my disposition was then very affectionate.
With respect to science, I continued collecting minerals with much zeal, but quite unscientifically—all that I cared about was a new-NAMED mineral, and I hardly attempted to classify them. I must have observed insects with some little care, for when ten years old (1819) I went for three weeks to Plas Edwards on the sea-coast in Wales, I was very much interested and surprised at seeing a large black and scarlet Hemipterous insect, many moths (Zygaena), and a Cicindela which are not found in Shropshire. I almost made up my mind to begin collecting all the insects which I could find dead, for on consulting my sister I concluded that it was not right to kill insects for the sake of making a collection. From reading White's 'Selborne,' I took much pleasure in watching the habits of birds, and even made notes on the subject. In my simplicity I remember wondering why every gentleman did not become an ornithologist.
Towards the close of my school life, my brother worked hard at chemistry, and made a fair laboratory with proper apparatus in the tool-house in the garden, and I was allowed to aid him as a servant in most of his experiments. He made all the gases and many compounds, and I read with great care several books on chemistry, such as Henry and Parkes' 'Chemical Catechism.' The subject interested me greatly, and we often used to go on working till rather late at night. This was the best part of my education at school, for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science. The fact that we worked at chemistry somehow got known at school, and as it was an unprecedented fact, I was nicknamed "Gas." I was also once publicly rebuked by the head-master, Dr. Butler, for thus wasting my time on such useless subjects; and he called me very unjustly a "poco curante," and as I did not understand what he meant, it seemed to me a fearful reproach.
As I was doing no good at school, my father wisely took me away at a rather earlier age than usual, and sent me (Oct. 1825) to Edinburgh University with my brother, where I stayed for two years or sessions. My brother was completing his medical studies, though I do not believe he ever really intended to practise, and I was sent there to commence them. But soon after this period I became convinced from various small circumstances that my father would leave me property enough to subsist on with some comfort, though I never imagined that I should be so rich a man as I am; but my belief was sufficient to check any strenuous efforts to learn medicine.
The instruction at Edinburgh was altogether by lectures, and these were intolerably dull, with the exception of those on chemistry by Hope; but to my mind there are no advantages and many disadvantages in lectures compared with reading. Dr. Duncan's lectures on Materia Medica at 8 o'clock on a winter's morning are something fearful to remember. Dr.— made his lectures on human anatomy as dull as he was himself, and the subject disgusted me. It has proved one of the greatest evils in my life that I was not urged to practise dissection, for I should soon have got over my disgust; and the practice would have been invaluable for all my future work. This has been an irremediable evil, as well as my incapacity to draw. I also attended regularly the clinical wards in the hospital. Some of the cases distressed me a good deal, and I still have vivid pictures before me of some of them; but I was not so foolish as to allow this to lessen my attendance. I cannot understand why this part of my medical course did not interest me in a greater degree; for during the summer before coming to Edinburgh I began attending some of the poor people, chiefly children and women in Shrewsbury: I wrote down as full an account as I could of the case with all the symptoms, and read them aloud to my father, who suggested further inquiries and advised me what medicines to give, which I made up myself. At one time I had at least a dozen patients, and I felt a keen interest in the work. My father, who was by far the best judge of character whom I ever knew, declared that I should make a successful physician,—meaning by this one who would get many patients. He maintained that the chief element of success was exciting confidence; but what he saw in me which convinced him that I should create confidence I know not. I also attended on two occasions the operating theatre in the hospital at Edinburgh, and saw two very bad operations, one on a child, but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again, for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do so; this being long before the blessed days of chloroform. The two cases fairly haunted me for many a long year.
My brother stayed only one year at the University, so that during the second year I was left to my own resources; and this was an advantage, for I became well acquainted with several young men fond of natural science. One of these was Ainsworth, who afterwards published his travels in Assyria; he was a Wernerian geologist, and knew a little about many subjects. Dr. Coldstream was a very different young man, prim, formal, highly religious, and most kind-hearted; he afterwards published some good zoological articles. A third young man was Hardie, who would, I think, have made a good botanist, but died early in India. Lastly, Dr. Grant, my senior by several years, but how I became acquainted with him I cannot remember; he published some first-rate zoological papers, but after coming to London as Professor in University College, he did nothing more in science, a fact which has always been inexplicable to me. I knew him well; he was dry and formal in manner, with much enthusiasm beneath this outer crust. He one day, when we were walking together, burst forth in high admiration of Lamarck and his views on evolution. I listened in silent astonishment, and as far as I can judge without any effect on my mind. I had previously read the 'Zoonomia' of my grandfather, in which similar views are maintained, but without producing any effect on me. Nevertheless it is probable that the hearing rather early in life such views maintained and praised may have favoured my upholding them under a different form in my 'Origin of Species.' At this time I admired greatly the 'Zoonomia;' but on reading it a second time after an interval of ten or fifteen years, I was much disappointed; the proportion of speculation being so large to the facts given.
Drs. Grant and Coldstream attended much to marine Zoology, and I often accompanied the former to collect animals in the tidal pools, which I dissected as well as I could. I also became friends with some of the Newhaven fishermen, and sometimes accompanied them when they trawled for oysters, and thus got many specimens. But from not having had any regular practice in dissection, and from possessing only a wretched microscope, my attempts were very poor. Nevertheless I made one interesting little discovery, and read, about the beginning of the year 1826, a short paper on the subject before the Plinian Society. This was that the so-called ova of Flustra had the power of independent movement by means of cilia, and were in fact larvae. In another short paper I showed that the little globular bodies which had been supposed to be the young state of Fucus loreus were the egg-cases of the wormlike Pontobdella muricata.
The Plinian Society was encouraged and, I believe, founded by Professor Jameson: it consisted of students and met in an underground room in the University for the sake of reading papers on natural science and discussing them. I used regularly to attend, and the meetings had a good effect on me in stimulating my zeal and giving me new congenial acquaintances. One evening a poor young man got up, and after stammering for a prodigious length of time, blushing crimson, he at last slowly got out the words, "Mr. President, I have forgotten what I was going to say." The poor fellow looked quite overwhelmed, and all the members were so surprised that no one could think of a word to say to cover his confusion. The papers which were read to our little society were not printed, so that I had not the satisfaction of seeing my paper in print; but I believe Dr. Grant noticed my small discovery in his excellent memoir on Flustra.
I was also a member of the Royal Medical Society, and attended pretty regularly; but as the subjects were exclusively medical, I did not much care about them. Much rubbish was talked there, but there were some good speakers, of whom the best was the present Sir J. Kay-Shuttleworth. Dr. Grant took me occasionally to the meetings of the Wernerian Society, where various papers on natural history were read, discussed, and afterwards published in the 'Transactions.' I heard Audubon deliver there some interesting discourses on the habits of N. American birds, sneering somewhat unjustly at Waterton. By the way, a negro lived in Edinburgh, who had travelled with Waterton, and gained his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently: he gave me lessons for payment, and I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man.
Mr. Leonard Horner also took me once to a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, where I saw Sir Walter Scott in the chair as President, and he apologised to the meeting as not feeling fitted for such a position. I looked at him and at the whole scene with some awe and reverence, and I think it was owing to this visit during my youth, and to my having attended the Royal Medical Society, that I felt the honour of being elected a few years ago an honorary member of both these Societies, more than any other similar honour. If I had been told at that time that I should one day have been thus honoured, I declare that I should have thought it as ridiculous and improbable, as if I had been told that I should be elected King of England.
During my second year at Edinburgh I attended —'s lectures on Geology and Zoology, but they were incredibly dull. The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology, or in any way to study the science. Yet I feel sure that I was prepared for a philosophical treatment of the subject; for an old Mr. Cotton in Shropshire, who knew a good deal about rocks, had pointed out to me two or three years previously a well-known large erratic boulder in the town of Shrewsbury, called the "bell-stone"; he told me that there was no rock of the same kind nearer than Cumberland or Scotland, and he solemnly assured me that the world would come to an end before any one would be able to explain how this stone came where it now lay. This produced a deep impression on me, and I meditated over this wonderful stone. So that I felt the keenest delight when I first read of the action of icebergs in transporting boulders, and I gloried in the progress of Geology. Equally striking is the fact that I, though now only sixty-seven years old, heard the Professor, in a field lecture at Salisbury Craigs, discoursing on a trapdyke, with amygdaloidal margins and the strata indurated on each side, with volcanic rocks all around us, say that it was a fissure filled with sediment from above, adding with a sneer that there were men who maintained that it had been injected from beneath in a molten condition. When I think of this lecture, I do not wonder that I determined never to attend to Geology.
>From attending —'s lectures, I became acquainted with the curator of the museum, Mr. Macgillivray, who afterwards published a large and excellent book on the birds of Scotland. I had much interesting natural-history talk with him, and he was very kind to me. He gave me some rare shells, for I at that time collected marine mollusca, but with no great zeal.
My summer vacations during these two years were wholly given up to amusements, though I always had some book in hand, which I read with interest. During the summer of 1826 I took a long walking tour with two friends with knapsacks on our backs through North wales. We walked thirty miles most days, including one day the ascent of Snowdon. I also went with my sister a riding tour in North Wales, a servant with saddle-bags carrying our clothes. The autumns were devoted to shooting chiefly at Mr. Owen's, at Woodhouse, and at my Uncle Jos's (Josiah Wedgwood, the son of the founder of the Etruria Works.) at Maer. My zeal was so great that I used to place my shooting-boots open by my bed-side when I went to bed, so as not to lose half a minute in putting them on in the morning; and on one occasion I reached a distant part of the Maer estate, on the 20th of August for black-game shooting, before I could see: I then toiled on with the game-keeper the whole day through thick heath and young Scotch firs.
I kept an exact record of every bird which I shot throughout the whole season. One day when shooting at Woodhouse with Captain Owen, the eldest son, and Major Hill, his cousin, afterwards Lord Berwick, both of whom I liked very much, I thought myself shamefully used, for every time after I had fired and thought that I had killed a bird, one of the two acted as if loading his gun, and cried out, "You must not count that bird, for I fired at the same time," and the gamekeeper, perceiving the joke, backed them up. After some hours they told me the joke, but it was no joke to me, for I had shot a large number of birds, but did not know how many, and could not add them to my list, which I used to do by making a knot in a piece of string tied to a button-hole. This my wicked friends had perceived.
How I did enjoy shooting! But I think that I must have been half- consciously ashamed of my zeal, for I tried to persuade myself that shooting was almost an intellectual employment; it required so much skill to judge where to find most game and to hunt the dogs well.
One of my autumnal visits to Maer in 1827 was memorable from meeting there Sir J. Mackintosh, who was the best converser I ever listened to. I heard afterwards with a glow of pride that he had said, "There is something in that young man that interests me." This must have been chiefly due to his perceiving that I listened with much interest to everything which he said, for I was as ignorant as a pig about his subjects of history, politics, and moral philosophy. To hear of praise from an eminent person, though no doubt apt or certain to excite vanity, is, I think, good for a young man, as it helps to keep him in the right course.
My visits to Maer during these two or three succeeding years were quite delightful, independently of the autumnal shooting. Life there was perfectly free; the country was very pleasant for walking or riding; and in the evening there was much very agreeable conversation, not so personal as it generally is in large family parties, together with music. In the summer the whole family used often to sit on the steps of the old portico, with the flower-garden in front, and with the steep wooded bank opposite the house reflected in the lake, with here and there a fish rising or a water-bird paddling about. Nothing has left a more vivid picture on my mind than these evenings at Maer. I was also attached to and greatly revered my Uncle Jos; he was silent and reserved, so as to be a rather awful man; but he sometimes talked openly with me. He was the very type of an upright man, with the clearest judgment. I do not believe that any power on earth could have made him swerve an inch from what he considered the right course. I used to apply to him in my mind the well-known ode of Horace, now forgotten by me, in which the words "nec vultus tyranni, etc.," come in. (Justum et tenacem propositi virum Non civium ardor prava jubentium Non vultus instantis tyranni Mente quatit solida.)
After having spent two sessions in Edinburgh, my father perceived, or he heard from my sisters, that I did not like the thought of being a physician, so he proposed that I should become a clergyman. He was very properly vehement against my turning into an idle sporting man, which then seemed my probable destination. I asked for some time to consider, as from what little I had heard or thought on the subject I had scruples about declaring my belief in all the dogmas of the Church of England; though otherwise I liked the thought of being a country clergyman. Accordingly I read with care 'Pearson on the Creed,' and a few other books on divinity; and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted.
Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox, it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman. Nor was this intention and my father's wish ever formerly given up, but died a natural death when, on leaving Cambridge, I joined the "Beagle" as naturalist. If the phrenologists are to be trusted, I was well fitted in one respect to be a clergyman. A few years ago the secretaries of a German psychological society asked me earnestly by letter for a photograph of myself; and some time afterwards I received the proceedings of one of the meetings, in which it seemed that the shape of my head had been the subject of a public discussion, and one of the speakers declared that I had the bump of reverence developed enough for ten priests.
As it was decided that I should be a clergyman, it was necessary that I should go to one of the English universities and take a degree; but as I had never opened a classical book since leaving school, I found to my dismay, that in the two intervening years I had actually forgotten, incredible as it may appear, almost everything which I had learnt, even to some few of the Greek letters. I did not therefore proceed to Cambridge at the usual time in October, but worked with a private tutor in Shrewsbury, and went to Cambridge after the Christmas vacation, early in 1828. I soon recovered my school standard of knowledge, and could translate easy Greek books, such as Homer and the Greek Testament, with moderate facility.
During the three years which I spent at Cambridge my time was wasted, as far as the academical studies were concerned, as completely as at Edinburgh and at school. I attempted mathematics, and even went during the summer of 1828 with a private tutor (a very dull man) to Barmouth, but I got on very slowly. The work was repugnant to me, chiefly from my not being able to see any meaning in the early steps in algebra. This impatience was very foolish, and in after years I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics, for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense. But I do not believe that I should ever have succeeded beyond a very low grade. With respect to Classics I did nothing except attend a few compulsory college lectures, and the attendance was almost nominal. In my second year I had to work for a month or two to pass the Little-Go, which I did easily. Again, in my last year I worked with some earnestness for my final degree of B.A., and brushed up my Classics, together with a little Algebra and Euclid, which latter gave me much pleasure, as it did at school. In order to pass the B.A. examination, it was also necessary to get up Paley's 'Evidences of Christianity,' and his 'Moral Philosophy.' This was done in a thorough manner, and I am convinced that I could have written out the whole of the 'Evidences' with perfect correctness, but not of course in the clear language of Paley. The logic of this book and, as I may add, of his 'Natural Theology,' gave me as much delight as did Euclid. The careful study of these works, without attempting to learn any part by rote, was the only part of the academical course which, as I then felt and as I still believe, was of the least use to me in the education of my mind. I did not at that time trouble myself about Paley's premises; and taking these on trust, I was charmed and convinced by the long line of argumentation. By answering well the examination questions in Paley, by doing Euclid well, and by not failing miserably in Classics, I gained a good place among the oi polloi or crowd of men who do not go in for honours. Oddly enough, I cannot remember how high I stood, and my memory fluctuates between the fifth, tenth, or twelfth, name on the list. (Tenth in the list of January 1831.)
Public lectures on several branches were given in the University, attendance being quite voluntary; but I was so sickened with lectures at Edinburgh that I did not even attend Sedgwick's eloquent and interesting lectures. Had I done so I should probably have become a geologist earlier than I did. I attended, however, Henslow's lectures on Botany, and liked them much for their extreme clearness, and the admirable illustrations; but I did not study botany. Henslow used to take his pupils, including several of the older members of the University, field excursions, on foot or in coaches, to distant places, or in a barge down the river, and lectured on the rarer plants and animals which were observed. These excursions were delightful.
Although, as we shall presently see, there were some redeeming features in my life at Cambridge, my time was sadly wasted there, and worse than wasted. From my passion for shooting and for hunting, and, when this failed, for riding across country, I got into a sporting set, including some dissipated low-minded young men. We used often to dine together in the evening, though these dinners often included men of a higher stamp, and we sometimes drank too much, with jolly singing and playing at cards afterwards. I know that I ought to feel ashamed of days and evenings thus spent, but as some of my friends were very pleasant, and we were all in the highest spirits, I cannot help looking back to these times with much pleasure.
But I am glad to think that I had many other friends of a widely different nature. I was very intimate with Whitley (Rev. C. Whitley, Hon. Canon of Durham, formerly Reader in Natural Philosophy in Durham University.), who was afterwards Senior Wrangler, and we used continually to take long walks together. He inoculated me with a taste for pictures and good engravings, of which I bought some. I frequently went to the Fitzwilliam Gallery, and my taste must have been fairly good, for I certainly admired the best pictures, which I discussed with the old curator. I read also with much interest Sir Joshua Reynolds' book. This taste, though not natural to me, lasted for several years, and many of the pictures in the National Gallery in London gave me much pleasure; that of Sebastian del Piombo exciting in me a sense of sublimity.