The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I
Part 3 out of 10
politeness, but in fact he had few opportunities of meeting strangers.
Dr. Lane has described (Lecture by Dr. B.W. Richardson, in St. George's
Hall, October 22, 1882.) how, on the rare occasion of my father attending a
lecture (Dr. Sanderson's) at the Royal Institution, "the whole
assembly...rose to their feet to welcome him," while he seemed "scarcely
conscious that such an outburst of applause could possibly be intended for
himself." The quiet life he led at Down made him feel confused in a large
society; for instance, at the Royal Society's soirees he felt oppressed by
the numbers. The feeling that he ought to know people, and the difficulty
he had in remembering faces in his latter years, also added to his
discomfort on such occasions. He did not realise that he would be
recognised from his photographs, and I remember his being uneasy at being
obviously recognised by a stranger at the Crystal Palace Aquarium.
I must say something of his manner of working: one characteristic of it
was his respect for time; he never forgot how precious it was. This was
shown, for instance, in the way in which he tried to curtail his holidays;
also, and more clearly, with respect to shorter periods. He would often
say, that saving the minutes was the way to get work done; he showed his
love of saving the minutes in the difference he felt between a quarter of
an hour and ten minutes' work; he never wasted a few spare minutes from
thinking that it was not worth while to set to work. I was often struck by
his way of working up to the very limit of his strength, so that he
suddenly stopped in dictating, with the words, "I believe I mustn't do any
more." The same eager desire not to lose time was seen in his quick
movements when at work. I particularly remember noticing this when he was
making an experiment on the roots of beans, which required some care in
manipulation; fastening the little bits of card upon the roots was done
carefully and necessarily slowly, but the intermediate movements were all
quick; taking a fresh bean, seeing that the root was healthy, impaling it
on a pin, fixing it on a cork, and seeing that it was vertical, etc; all
these processes were performed with a kind of restrained eagerness. He
always gave one the impression of working with pleasure, and not with any
drag. I have an image, too, of him as he recorded the result of some
experiment, looking eagerly at each root, etc., and then writing with equal
eagerness. I remember the quick movement of his head up and down as he
looked from the object to the notes.
He saved a great deal of time through not having to do things twice.
Although he would patiently go on repeating experiments where there was any
good to be gained, he could not endure having to repeat an experiment which
ought, if complete care had been taken, to have succeeded the first time--
and this gave him a continual anxiety that the experiment should not be
wasted; he felt the experiment to be sacred, however slight a one it was.
He wished to learn as much as possible from an experiment, so that he did
not confine himself to observing the single point to which the experiment
was directed, and his power of seeing a number of other things was
wonderful. I do not think he cared for preliminary or rough observation
intended to serve as guides and to be repeated. Any experiment done was to
be of some use, and in this connection I remember how strongly he urged the
necessity of keeping the notes of experiments which failed, and to this
rule he always adhered.
In the literary part of his work he had the same horror of losing time, and
the same zeal in what he was doing at the moment, and this made him careful
not to be obliged unnecessarily to read anything a second time.
His natural tendency was to use simple methods and few instruments. The
use of the compound microscope has much increased since his youth, and this
at the expense of the simple one. It strikes us nowadays as extraordinary
that he should have had no compound microscope when he went his "Beagle"
voyage; but in this he followed the advice of Robt. Brown, who was an
authority in such matters. He always had a great liking for the simple
microscope, and maintained that nowadays it was too much neglected, and
that one ought always to see as much as possible with the simple before
taking to the compound microscope. In one of his letters he speaks on this
point, and remarks that he always suspects the work of a man who never uses
the simple microscope.
His dissecting table was a thick board, let into a window of the study; it
was lower than an ordinary table, so that he could not have worked at it
standing; but this, from wishing to save his strength, he would not have
done in any case. He sat at his dissecting-table on a curious low stool
which had belonged to his father, with a seat revolving on a vertical
spindle, and mounted on large castors, so that he could turn easily from
side to side. His ordinary tools, etc., were lying about on the table, but
besides these a number of odds and ends were kept in a round table full of
radiating drawers, and turning on a vertical axis, which stood close by his
left side, as he sat at his microscope-table. The drawers were labelled,
"best tools," "rough tools," "specimens," "preparations for specimens,"
etc. The most marked peculiarity of the contents of these drawers was the
care with which little scraps and almost useless things were preserved; he
held the well-known belief, that if you threw a thing away you were sure to
want it directly--and so things accumulated.
If any one had looked at his tools, etc., lying on the table, he would have
been struck by an air of simpleness, make-shift, and oddness.
At his right hand were shelves, with a number of other odds and ends,
glasses, saucers, tin biscuit boxes for germinating seeds, zinc labels,
saucers full of sand, etc., etc. Considering how tidy and methodical he
was in essential things, it is curious that he bore with so many make-
shifts: for instance, instead of having a box made of a desired shape, and
stained black inside, he would hunt up something like what he wanted and
get it darkened inside with shoe-blacking; he did not care to have glass
covers made for tumblers in which he germinated seeds, but used broken bits
of irregular shape, with perhaps a narrow angle sticking uselessly out on
one side. But so much of his experimenting was of a simple kind, that he
had no need for any elaboration, and I think his habit in this respect was
in great measure due to his desire to husband his strength, and not waste
it on inessential things.
His way of marking objects may here be mentioned. If he had a number of
things to distinguish, such as leaves, flowers, etc., he tied threads of
different colours round them. In particular he used this method when he
had only two classes of objects to distinguish; thus in the case of crossed
and self-fertilised flowers, one set would be marked with black and one
with white thread, tied round the stalk of the flower. I remember well the
look of two sets of capsules, gathered and waiting to be weighed, counted,
etc., with pieces of black and of white thread to distinguish the trays in
which they lay. When he had to compare two sets of seedlings, sowed in the
same pot, he separated them by a partition of zinc-plate; and the zinc
label, which gave the necessary details about the experiment, was always
placed on a certain side, so that it became instinctive with him to know
without reading the label which were the "crossed" and which were the
His love of each particular experiment, and his eager zeal not to lose the
fruit of it, came out markedly in these crossing experiments--in the
elaborate care he took not to make any confusion in putting capsules into
wrong trays, etc., etc. I can recall his appearance as he counted seeds
under the simple microscope with an alertness not usually characterising
such mechanical work as counting. I think he personified each seed as a
small demon trying to elude him by getting into the wrong heap, or jumping
away altogether; and this gave to the work the excitement of a game. He
had great faith in instruments, and I do not think it naturally occurred to
him to doubt the accuracy of a scale or measuring glass, etc. He was
astonished when we found that one of his micrometers differed from the
other. He did not require any great accuracy in most of his measurements,
and had not good scales; he had an old three-foot rule, which was the
common property of the household, and was constantly being borrowed,
because it was the only one which was certain to be in its place--unless,
indeed, the last borrower had forgotten to put it back. For measuring the
height of plants he had a seven-foot deal rod, graduated by the village
carpenter. Latterly he took to using paper scales graduated to
millimeters. For small objects he used a pair of compasses and an ivory
protractor. It was characteristic of him that he took scrupulous pains in
making measurements with his somewhat rough scales. A trifling example of
his faith in authority is that he took his "inch in terms of millimeters"
from an old book, in which it turned out to be inaccurately given. He had
a chemical balance which dated from the days when he worked at chemistry
with his brother Erasmus. Measurements of capacity were made with an
apothecary's measuring glass: I remember well its rough look and bad
graduation. With this, too, I remember the great care he took in getting
the fluid-line on to the graduation. I do not mean by this account of his
instruments that any of his experiments suffered from want of accuracy in
measurement, I give them as examples of his simple methods and faith in
others--faith at least in instrument-makers, whose whole trade was a
mystery to him.
A few of his mental characteristics, bearing especially on his mode of
working, occur to me. There was one quality of mind which seemed to be of
special and extreme advantage in leading him to make discoveries. It was
the power of never letting exceptions pass unnoticed. Everybody notices a
fact as an exception when it is striking or frequent, but he had a special
instinct for arresting an exception. A point apparently slight and
unconnected with his present work is passed over by many a man almost
unconsciously with some half-considered explanation, which is in fact no
explanation. It was just these things that he seized on to make a start
from. In a certain sense there is nothing special in this procedure, many
discoveries being made by means of it. I only mention it because, as I
watched him at work, the value of this power to an experimenter was so
strongly impressed upon me.
Another quality which was shown in his experimental works was his power of
sticking to a subject; he used almost to apologise for his patience, saying
that he could not bear to be beaten, as if this were rather a sign of
weakness on his part. He often quoted the saying, "It's dogged as does
it;" and I think doggedness expresses his frame of mind almost better than
perseverance. Perseverance seems hardly to express his almost fierce
desire to force the truth to reveal itself. He often said that it was
important that a man should know the right point at which to give up an
inquiry. And I think it was his tendency to pass this point that inclined
him to apologise for his perseverance, and gave the air of doggedness to
He often said that no one could be a good observer unless he was an active
theoriser. This brings me back to what I said about his instinct for
arresting exceptions: it was as though he were charged with theorising
power ready to flow into any channel on the slightest disturbance, so that
no fact, however small, could avoid releasing a stream of theory, and thus
the fact became magnified into importance. In this way it naturally
happened that many untenable theories occurred to him; but fortunately his
richness of imagination was equalled by his power of judging and condemning
the thoughts that occurred to him. He was just to his theories, and did
not condemn them unheard; and so it happened that he was willing to test
what would seem to most people not at all worth testing. These rather wild
trials he called "fool's experiments," and enjoyed extremely. As an
example I may mention that finding the cotyledons of Biophytum to be highly
sensitive to vibrations of the table, he fancied that they might perceive
the vibrations of sound, and therefore made me play my bassoon close to a
plant. (This is not so much an example of superabundant theorising from a
small cause, but only of his wish to test the most improbable ideas.)
The love of experiment was very strong in him, and I can remember the way
he would say, "I shan't be easy till I have tried it," as if an outside
force were driving him. He enjoyed experimenting much more than work which
only entailed reasoning, and when he was engaged on one of his books which
required argument and the marshalling of facts, he felt experimental work
to be a rest or holiday. Thus, while working upon the 'Variations of
Animals and Plants,' in 1860-61, he made out the fertilisation of Orchids,
and thought himself idle for giving so much time to them. It is
interesting to think that so important a piece of research should have been
undertaken and largely worked out as a pastime in place of more serious
work. The letters to Hooker of this period contain expressions such as,
"God forgive me for being so idle; I am quite sillily interested in this
work." The intense pleasure he took in understanding the adaptations for
fertilisation is strongly shown in these letters. He speaks in one of his
letters of his intention of working at Drosera as a rest from the 'Descent
of Man.' He has described in his 'Recollections' the strong satisfaction
he felt in solving the problem of heterostylism. And I have heard him
mention that the Geology of South America gave him almost more pleasure
than anything else. It was perhaps this delight in work requiring keen
observation that made him value praise given to his observing powers almost
more than appreciation of his other qualities.
For books he had no respect, but merely considered them as tools to be
worked with. Thus he did not bind them, and even when a paper book fell to
pieces from use, as happened to Muller's 'Befruchtung,' he preserved it
from complete dissolution by putting a metal clip over its back. In the
same way he would cut a heavy book in half, to make it more convenient to
hold. He used to boast that he made Lyell publish the second edition of
one of his books in two volumes instead of one, by telling him how he had
been obliged to cut it in half. Pamphlets were often treated even more
severely than books, for he would tear out, for the sake of saving room,
all the pages except the one that interested him. The consequence of all
this was, that his library was not ornamental, but was striking from being
so evidently a working collection of books.
He was methodical in his manner of reading books and pamphlets bearing on
his own work. He had one shelf on which were piled up the books he had not
yet read, and another to which they were transferred after having been
read, and before being catalogued. He would often groan over his unread
books, because there were so many which he knew he should never read. Many
a book was at once transferred to the other heap, either marked with a
cypher at the end, to show that it contained no marked passages, or
inscribed, perhaps, "not read," or "only skimmed." The books accumulated
in the "read" heap until the shelves overflowed, and then, with much
lamenting, a day was given up to the cataloguing. He disliked this work,
and as the necessity of undertaking the work became imperative, would often
say, in a voice of despair, "We really must do these books soon."
In each book, as he read it, he marked passages bearing on his work. In
reading a book or pamphlet, etc., he made pencil-lines at the side of the
page, often adding short remarks, and at the end made a list of the pages
marked. When it was to be catalogued and put away, the marked pages were
looked at, and so a rough abstract of the book was made. This abstract
would perhaps be written under three or four headings on different sheets,
the facts being sorted out and added to the previously collected facts in
different subjects. He had other sets of abstracts arranged, not according
to subject, but according to periodical. When collecting facts on a large
scale, in earlier years, he used to read through, and make abstracts, in
this way, of whole series of periodicals.
In some of his early letters he speaks of filling several note-books with
facts for his book on species; but it was certainly early that he adopted
his plan of using portfolios as described in the 'Recollections.' (The
racks on which the portfolios were placed are shown in the illustration,
"The Study at Down," in the recess at the right-hand side of the fire-
place.) My father and M. de Candolle were mutually pleased to discover
that they had adopted the same plan of classifying facts. De Candolle
describes the method in his 'Phytologie,' and in his sketch of my father
mentions the satisfaction he felt in seeing it in action at Down.
Besides these portfolios, of which there are some dozens full of notes,
there are large bundles of MS. marked "used" and put away. He felt the
value of his notes, and had a horror of their destruction by fire. I
remember, when some alarm of fire had happened, his begging me to be
especially careful, adding very earnestly, that the rest of his life would
be miserable if his notes and books were to be destroyed.
He shows the same feeling in writing about the loss of a manuscript, the
purport of his words being, "I have a copy, or the loss would have killed
me." In writing a book he would spend much time and labour in making a
skeleton or plan of the whole, and in enlarging and sub-classing each
heading, as described in his 'Recollections.' I think this careful
arrangement of the plan was not at all essential to the building up of his
argument, but for its presentment, and for the arrangement of his facts.
In his 'Life of Erasmus Darwin,' as it was first printed in slips, the
growth of the book from a skeleton was plainly visible. The arrangement
was altered afterwards, because it was too formal and categorical, and
seemed to give the character of his grandfather rather by means of a list
of qualities than as a complete picture.
It was only within the last few years that he adopted a plan of writing
which he was convinced suited him best, and which is described in the
'Recollections;' namely, writing a rough copy straight off without the
slightest attention to style. It was characteristic of him that he felt
unable to write with sufficient want of care if he used his best paper, and
thus it was that he wrote on the backs of old proofs or manuscript. The
rough copy was then reconsidered, and a fair copy was made. For this
purpose he had foolscap paper ruled at wide intervals, the lines being
needed to prevent him writing so closely that correction became difficult.
The fair copy was then corrected, and was recopied before being sent to the
printers. The copying was done by Mr. E. Norman, who began this work many
years ago when village schoolmaster at Down. My father became so used to
Mr. Norman's hand-writing, that he could not correct manuscript, even when
clearly written out by one of his children, until it had been recopied by
Mr. Norman. The MS., on returning from Mr. Norman was once more corrected,
and then sent off to the printers. Then came the work of revising and
correcting the proofs, which my father found especially wearisome.
It was at this stage that he first seriously considered the style of what
he had written. When this was going on he usually started some other piece
of work as a relief. The correction of slips consisted in fact of two
processes, for the corrections were first written in pencil, and then re-
considered and written in ink.
When the book was passing through the "slip" stage he was glad to have
corrections and suggestions from others. Thus my mother looked over the
proofs of the 'Origin.' In some of the later works my sister, Mrs.
Litchfield, did much of the correction. After my sister's marriage perhaps
most of the work fell to my share.
My sister, Mrs. Litchfield, writes:--
"This work was very interesting in itself, and it was inexpressibly
exhilarating to work for him. He was always so ready to be convinced that
any suggested alteration was an improvement, and so full of gratitude for
the trouble taken. I do not think that he ever used to forget to tell me
what improvement he thought that I had made, and he used almost to excuse
himself if he did not agree with any correction. I think I felt the
singular modesty and graciousness of his nature through thus working for
him in a way I never should otherwise have done.
"He did not write with ease, and was apt to invert his sentences both in
writing and speaking, putting the qualifying clause before it was clear
what it was to qualify. He corrected a great deal, and was eager to
express himself as well as he possibly could."
Perhaps the commonest corrections needed were of obscurities due to the
omission of a necessary link in the reasoning, something which he had
evidently omitted through familiarity with the subject. Not that there was
any fault in the sequence of the thoughts, but that from familiarity with
his argument he did not notice when the words failed to reproduce his
thought. He also frequently put too much matter into one sentence, so that
it had to be cut up into two.
On the whole, I think the pains which my father took over the literary part
of the work was very remarkable. He often laughed or grumbled at himself
for the difficulty which he found in writing English, saying, for instance,
that if a bad arrangement of a sentence was possible, he should be sure to
adopt it. He once got much amusement and satisfaction out of the
difficulty which one of the family found in writing a short circular. He
had the pleasure of correcting and laughing at obscurities, involved
sentences, and other defects, and thus took his revenge for all the
criticism he had himself to bear with. He used to quote with astonishment
Miss Martineau's advice to young authors, to write straight off and send
the MS. to the printer without correction. But in some cases he acted in a
somewhat similar manner. When a sentence got hopelessly involved, he would
ask himself, "now what DO you want to say?" and his answer written down,
would often disentangle the confusion.
His style has been much praised; on the other hand, at least one good judge
has remarked to me that it is not a good style. It is, above all things,
direct and clear; and it is characteristic of himself in its simplicity,
bordering on naivete, and in its absence of pretence. He had the strongest
disbelief in the common idea that a classical scholar must write good
English; indeed, he thought that the contrary was the case. In writing, he
sometimes showed the same tendency to strong expressions as he did in
conversation. Thus in the 'Origin,' page 440, there is a description of a
larval cirripede, "with six pairs of beautifully constructed natatory legs,
a pair of magnificent compound eyes, and extremely complex antennae." We
used to laugh at him for this sentence, which we compared to an
advertisement. This tendency to give himself up to the enthusiastic turn
of his thought, without fear of being ludicrous, appears elsewhere in his
His courteous and conciliatory tone towards his reader is remarkable, and
it must be partly this quality which revealed his personal sweetness of
character to so many who had never seen him. I have always felt it to be a
curious fact, that he who had altered the face of Biological Science, and
is in this respect the chief of the moderns, should have written and worked
in so essentially a non-modern spirit and manner. In reading his books one
is reminded of the older naturalists rather than of the modern school of
writers. He was a Naturalist in the old sense of the word, that is, a man
who works at many branches of the science, not merely a specialist in one.
Thus it is, that, though he founded whole new divisions of special
subjects--such as the fertilisation of flowers, insectivorous plants,
dimorphism, etc.--yet even in treating these very subjects he does not
strike the reader as a specialist. The reader feels like a friend who is
being talked to by a courteous gentleman, not like a pupil being lectured
by a professor. The tone of such a book as the 'Origin' is charming, and
almost pathetic; it is the tone of a man who, convinced of the truth of his
own views, hardly expects to convince others; it is just the reverse of the
style of a fanatic, who wants to force people to believe. The reader is
never scorned for any amount of doubt which he may be imagined to feel, and
his scepticism is treated with patient respect. A sceptical reader, or
perhaps even an unreasonable reader, seems to have been generally present
to his thoughts. It was in consequence of this feeling, perhaps, that he
took much trouble over points which he imagined would strike the reader, or
save him trouble, and so tempt him to read.
For the same reason he took much interest in the illustrations of his
books, and I think rated rather too highly their value. The illustrations
for his earlier books were drawn by professional artists. This was the
case in 'Animals and Plants,' the 'Descent of Man,' and the 'Expression of
the Emotions.' On the other hand, 'Climbing Plants,' 'Insectivorous
Plants,' the 'Movements of Plants,' and 'Forms of Flowers,' were, to a
large extent, illustrated by some of his children--my brother George having
drawn by far the most. It was delightful to draw for him, as he was
enthusiastic in his praise of very moderate performances. I remember well
his charming manner of receiving the drawings of one of his daughters-in-
law, and how he would finish his words of praise by saying, "Tell A--,
Michael Angelo is nothing to it." Though he praised so generously, he
always looked closely at the drawing, and easily detected mistakes or
He had a horror of being lengthy, and seems to have been really much
annoyed and distressed when he found how the 'Variations of Animals and
Plants' was growing under his hands. I remember his cordially agreeing
with 'Tristram Shandy's' words, "Let no man say, 'Come, I'll write a
His consideration for other authors was as marked a characteristic as his
tone towards his reader. He speaks of all other authors as persons
deserving of respect. In cases where, as in the case of --'s experiments
on Drosera, he thought lightly of the author, he speaks of him in such a
way that no one would suspect it. In other cases he treats the confused
writings of ignorant persons as though the fault lay with himself for not
appreciating or understanding them. Besides this general tone of respect,
he had a pleasant way of expressing his opinion on the value of a quoted
work, or his obligation for a piece of private information.
His respectful feeling was not only morally beautiful, but was I think of
practical use in making him ready to consider the ideas and observations of
all manner of people. He used almost to apologise for this, and would say
that he was at first inclined to rate everything too highly.
It was a great merit in his mind that, in spite of having so strong a
respectful feeling towards what he read, he had the keenest of instincts as
to whether a man was trustworthy or not. He seemed to form a very definite
opinion as to the accuracy of the men whose books he read; and made use of
this judgment in his choice of facts for use in argument or as
illustrations. I gained the impression that he felt this power of judging
of a man's trustworthiness to be of much value.
He had a keen feeling of the sense of honour that ought to reign among
authors, and had a horror of any kind of laxness in quoting. He had a
contempt for the love of honour and glory, and in his letters often blames
himself for the pleasure he took in the success of his books, as though he
were departing from his ideal--a love of truth and carelessness about fame.
Often, when writing to Sir J. Hooker what he calls a boasting letter, he
laughs at himself for his conceit and want of modesty. There is a
wonderfully interesting letter which he wrote to my mother bequeathing to
her, in case of his death, the care of publishing the manuscript of his
first essay on evolution. This letter seems to me full of the intense
desire that his theory should succeed as a contribution to knowledge, and
apart from any desire for personal fame. He certainly had the healthy
desire for success which a man of strong feelings ought to have. But at
the time of the publication of the 'Origin' it is evident that he was
overwhelmingly satisfied with the adherence of such men as Lyell, Hooker,
Huxley, and Asa Gray, and did not dream of or desire any such wide and
general fame as he attained to.
Connected with his contempt for the undue love of fame, was an equally
strong dislike of all questions of priority. The letters to Lyell, at the
time of the 'Origin,' show the anger he felt with himself for not being
able to repress a feeling of disappointment at what he thought was Mr.
Wallace's forestalling of all his years of work. His sense of literary
honour comes out strongly in these letters; and his feeling about priority
is again shown in the admiration expressed in his 'Recollections' of Mr.
His feeling about reclamations, including answers to attacks and all kinds
of discussions, was strong. It is simply expressed in a letter to Falconer
(1863?), "If I ever felt angry towards you, for whom I have a sincere
friendship, I should begin to suspect that I was a little mad. I was very
sorry about your reclamation, as I think it is in every case a mistake and
should be left to others. Whether I should so act myself under provocation
is a different question." It was a feeling partly dictated by instinctive
delicacy, and partly by a strong sense of the waste of time, energy, and
temper thus caused. He said that he owed his determination not to get into
discussions (He departed from his rule in his "Note on the Habits of the
Pampas Woodpecker, Colaptes campestris," 'Proc. Zool. Soc.,' 1870, page
705: also in a letter published in the 'Athenaeum' (1863, page 554), in
which case he afterwards regretted that he had not remained silent. His
replies to criticisms, in the later editions of the 'Origin,' can hardly be
classed as infractions of his rule.) to the advice of Lyell,--advice which
he transmitted to those among his friends who were given to paper warfare.
If the character of my father's working life is to be understood, the
conditions of ill-health, under which he worked, must be constantly borne
in mind. He bore his illness with such uncomplaining patience, that even
his children can hardly, I believe, realise the extent of his habitual
suffering. In their case the difficulty is heightened by the fact that,
from the days of their earliest recollections, they saw him in constant
ill-health,--and saw him, in spite of it, full of pleasure in what pleased
them. Thus, in later life, their perception of what he endured had to be
disentangled from the impression produced in childhood by constant genial
kindness under conditions of unrecognised difficulty. No one indeed,
except my mother, knows the full amount of suffering he endured, or the
full amount of his wonderful patience. For all the latter years of his
life she never left him for a night; and her days were so planned that all
his resting hours might be shared with her. She shielded him from every
avoidable annoyance, and omitted nothing that might save him trouble, or
prevent him becoming overtired, or that might alleviate the many
discomforts of his ill-health. I hesitate to speak thus freely of a thing
so sacred as the life-long devotion which prompted all this constant and
tender care. But it is, I repeat, a principal feature of his life, that
for nearly forty years he never knew one day of the health of ordinary men,
and that thus his life was one long struggle against the weariness and
strain of sickness. And this cannot be told without speaking of the one
condition which enabled him to bear the strain and fight out the struggle
to the end.
The earliest letters to which I have access are those written by my father
when an undergraduate at Cambridge.
The history of his life, as told in his correspondence, must therefore
begin with this period.
[My father's Cambridge life comprises the time between the Lent Term, 1828,
when he came up as a Freshman, and the end of the May Term, 1831, when he
took his degree and left the University.
It appears from the College books, that my father "admissus est
pensionarius minor sub Magistro Shaw" on October 15, 1827. He did not come
into residence till the Lent Term, 1828, so that, although he passed his
examination in due season, he was unable to take his degree at the usual
time,--the beginning of the Lent Term, 1831. In such a case a man usually
took his degree before Ash-Wednesday, when he was called "Baccalaureus ad
Diem Cinerum," and ranked with the B.A.'s of the year. My father's name,
however, occurs in the list of Bachelors "ad Baptistam," or those admitted
between Ash-Wednesday and St. John Baptist's Day (June 24th); ("On Tuesday
last Charles Darwin, of Christ's College, was admitted B.A."--"Cambridge
Chronicle", Friday, April 29, 1831.) he therefore took rank among the
Bachelors of 1832.
He "kept" for a term or two in lodgings, over Bacon the tobacconist's; not,
however, over the shop in the Market Place, now so well known to Cambridge
men, but in Sidney Street. For the rest of his time he had pleasant rooms
on the south side of the first court of Christ's. (The rooms are on the
first floor, on the west side of the middle staircase. A medallion (given
by my brother) has recently been let into the wall of the sitting-room.)
What determined the choice of this college for his brother Erasmus and
himself I have no means of knowing. Erasmus the elder, their grandfather,
had been at St. John's, and this college might have been reasonably
selected for them, being connected with Shrewsbury School. But the life of
an under-graduate at St. John's seems, in those days, to have been a
troubled one, if I may judge from the fact that a relative of mine migrated
thence to Christ's to escape the harassing discipline of the place. A
story told by Mr. Herbert illustrates the same state of things:--
"In the beginning of the October Term of 1830, an incident occurred which
was attended with somewhat disagreeable, though ludicrous consequences to
myself. Darwin asked me to take a long walk with him in the Fens, to
search for some natural objects he was desirous of having. After a very
long, fatiguing day's work, we dined together, late in the evening, at his
rooms in Christ's College; and as soon as our dinner was over we threw
ourselves into easy chairs and fell sound asleep. I was first to awake,
about three in the morning, when, having looked at my watch, and knowing
the strict rule of St. John's, which required men in statu pupillari to
come into college before midnight, I rushed homeward at the utmost speed,
in fear of the consequences, but hoping that the Dean would accept the
excuse as sufficient when I told him the real facts. He, however, was
inexorable, and refused to receive my explanations, or any evidence I could
bring; and although during my undergraduateship I had never been reported
for coming late into College, now, when I was a hard-working B.A., and had
five or six pupils, he sentenced me to confinement to the College walls for
the rest of the term. Darwin's indignation knew no bounds, and the stupid
injustice and tyranny of the Dean raised not only a perfect ferment among
my friends, but was the subject of expostulation from some of the leading
members of the University."
My father seems to have found no difficulty in living at peace with all men
in and out of office at Lady Margaret's other foundation. The impression
of a contemporary of my father's is that Christ's in their day was a
pleasant, fairly quiet college, with some tendency towards "horsiness";
many of the men made a custom of going to Newmarket during the races,
though betting was not a regular practice. In this they were by no means
discouraged by the Senior Tutor, Mr. Shaw, who was himself generally to be
seen on the Heath on these occasions. There was a somewhat high proportion
of Fellow-Commoners,--eight or nine, to sixty or seventy Pensioners, and
this would indicate that it was not an unpleasant college for men with
money to spend and with no great love of strict discipline.
The way in which the service was conducted in chapel shows that the Dean,
at least, was not over zealous. I have heard my father tell how at evening
chapel the Dean used to read alternate verses of the Psalms, without making
even a pretence of waiting for the congregation to take their share. And
when the Lesson was a lengthy one, he would rise and go on with the
Canticles after the scholar had read fifteen or twenty verses.
It is curious that my father often spoke of his Cambridge life as if it had
been so much time wasted, forgetting that, although the set studies of the
place were barren enough for him, he yet gained in the highest degree the
best advantages of a University life--the contact with men and an
opportunity for his mind to grow vigorously. It is true that he valued at
its highest the advantages which he gained from associating with Professor
Henslow and some others, but he seemed to consider this as a chance outcome
of his life at Cambridge, not an advantage for which Alma Mater could claim
any credit. One of my father's Cambridge friends was the late Mr. J.M.
Herbert, County Court Judge for South Wales, from whom I was fortunate
enough to obtain some notes which help us to gain an idea of how my father
impressed his contemporaries. Mr. Herbert writes: "I think it was in the
spring of 1828 that I first met Darwin, either at my cousin Whitley's rooms
in St. John's, or at the rooms of some other of his old Shrewsbury
schoolfellows, with many of whom I was on terms of great intimacy. But it
certainly was in the summer of that year that our acquaintance ripened into
intimacy, when we happened to be together at Barmouth, for the Long
Vacation, reading with private tutors,--he with Batterton of St. John's,
his Classical and Mathematical Tutor, and I with Yate of St. John's."
The intercourse between them practically ceased in 1831, when my father
said goodbye to Herbert at Cambridge, on starting on his "Beagle" voyage.
I once met Mr. Herbert, then almost an old man, and I was much struck by
the evident warmth and freshness of the affection with which he remembered
my father. The notes from which I quote end with this warm-hearted
eulogium: "It would be idle for me to speak of his vast intellectual
powers...but I cannot end this cursory and rambling sketch without
testifying, and I doubt not all his surviving college friends would concur
with me, that he was the most genial, warm-hearted, generous, and
affectionate of friends; that his sympathies were with all that was good
and true; and that he had a cordial hatred for everything false, or vile,
or cruel, or mean, or dishonourable. He was not only great, but pre-
eminently good, and just, and loveable."
Two anecdotes told by Mr. Herbert show that my father's feeling for
suffering, whether of man or beast, was as strong in him as a young man as
it was in later years: "Before he left Cambridge he told me that he had
made up his mind not to shoot any more; that he had had two days' shooting
at his friend's, Mr. Owen of Woodhouse; and that on the second day, when
going over some of the ground they had beaten on the day before, he picked
up a bird not quite dead, but lingering from a shot it had received on the
previous day; and that it had made and left such a painful impression on
his mind, that he could not reconcile it to his conscience to continue to
derive pleasure from a sport which inflicted such cruel suffering."
To realise the strength of the feeling that led to this resolve, we must
remember how passionate was his love of sport. We must recall the boy
shooting his first snipe ('Recollections.'), and trembling with excitement
so that he could hardly reload his gun. Or think of such a sentence as,
"Upon my soul, it is only about a fortnight to the 'First,' then if there
is a bliss on earth that is it." (Letter from C. Darwin to W.D. Fox.)
Another anecdote told by Mr. Herbert illustrates again his tenderness of
"When at Barmouth he and I went to an exhibition of 'learned dogs.' In the
middle of the entertainment one of the dogs failed in performing the trick
his master told him to do. On the man reproving him, the dog put on a most
piteous expression, as if in fear of the whip. Darwin seeing it, asked me
to leave with him, saying, 'Come along, I can't stand this any longer; how
those poor dogs must have been licked.'"
It is curious that the same feeling recurred to my father more than fifty
years afterwards, on seeing some performing dogs at the Westminster
Aquarium; on this occasion he was reassured by the manager telling him that
the dogs were taught more by reward than by punishment. Mr. Herbert goes
on:--"It stirred one's inmost depth of feeling to hear him descant upon,
and groan over, the horrors of the slave-trade, or the cruelties to which
the suffering Poles were subjected at Warsaw...These, and other like proofs
have left on my mind the conviction that a more humane or tender-hearted
man never lived."
His old college friends agree in speaking with affectionate warmth of his
pleasant, genial temper as a young man. From what they have been able to
tell me, I gain the impression of a young man overflowing with animal
spirits--leading a varied healthy life--not over-industrious in the set of
studies of the place, but full of other pursuits, which were followed with
a rejoicing enthusiasm. Entomology, riding, shooting in the fens, suppers
and card-playing, music at King's Chapel, engravings at the Fitzwilliam
Museum, walks with Professor Henslow--all combined to fill up a happy life.
He seems to have infected others with his enthusiasm. Mr. Herbert relates
how, during the same Barmouth summer, he was pressed into the service of
"the science"--as my father called collecting beetles. They took their
daily walks together among the hills behind Barmouth, or boated in the
Mawddach estuary, or sailed to Sarn Badrig to land there at low water, or
went fly-fishing in the Cors-y-gedol lakes. "On these occasions Darwin
entomologized most industriously, picking up creatures as he walked along,
and bagging everything which seemed worthy of being pursued, or of further
examination. And very soon he armed me with a bottle of alcohol, in which
I had to drop any beetle which struck me as not of a common kind. I
performed this duty with some diligence in my constitutional walks; but
alas! my powers of discrimination seldom enabled me to secure a prize--the
usual result, on his examining the contents of my bottle, being an
exclamation, 'Well, old Cherbury' (No doubt in allusion to the title of
Lord Herbert of Cherbury.) (the nickname he gave me, and by which he
usually addressed me), 'none of these will do.'" Again, the Rev. T.
Butler, who was one of the Barmouth reading-party in 1828, says: "He
inoculated me with a taste for Botany which has stuck by me all my life."
Archdeacon Watkins, another old college friend of my father's, remembers
him unearthing beetles in the willows between Cambridge and Grantchester,
and speaks of a certain beetle the remembrance of whose name is "Crux
major." (Panagaeus crux-major.) How enthusiastically must my father have
exulted over this beetle to have impressed its name on a companion so that
he remembers it after half a century! Archdeacon Watkins goes on: "I do
not forget the long and very interesting conversations that we had about
Brazilian scenery and tropical vegetation of all sorts. Nor do I forget
the way and the vehemence with which he rubbed his chin when he got excited
on such subjects, and discoursed eloquently of lianas, orchids, etc."
He became intimate with Henslow, the Professor of Botany, and through him
with some other older members of the University. "But," Mr. Herbert
writes, "he always kept up the closest connection with the friends of his
own standing; and at our frequent social gatherings--at breakfast, wine or
supper parties--he was ever one of the most cheerful, the most popular, and
the most welcome."
My father formed one of a club for dining once a week, called the Gourmet
(Mr. Herbert mentions the name as 'The Glutton Club.') Club, the members,
besides himself and Mr. Herbert (from whom I quote), being Whitley of St.
John's, now Honorary Canon of Durham (Formerly Reader in Natural Philosophy
at Durham University.); Heaviside of Sidney, now Canon of Norwich; Lovett
Cameron of Trinity, now vicar of Shoreham; Blane of Trinity, who held a
high post during the Crimean war; H. Lowe (Brother of Lord Sherbrooke.)
(Now Sherbrooke) of Trinity Hall; and Watkins of Emmanuel, now Archdeacon
of York. The origin of the club's name seems already to have become
involved in obscurity. Mr. Herbert says that it was chosen in derision of
another "set of men who called themselves by a long Greek name signifying
'fond of dainties,' but who falsified their claim to such a designation by
their weekly practice of dining at some roadside inn, six miles from
Cambridge, on mutton chops or beans and bacon." Another old member of the
club tells me that the name arose because the members were given to making
experiments on "birds and beasts which were before unknown to human
palate." He says that hawk and bittern were tried, and that their zeal
broke down over an old brown owl, "which was indescribable." At any rate,
the meetings seemed to have been successful, and to have ended with "a game
of mild vingt-et-un."
Mr. Herbert gives an amusing account of the musical examinations described
by my father in his 'Recollections." Mr. Herbert speaks strongly of his
love of music, and adds, "What gave him the greatest delight was some grand
symphony or overture of Mozart's or Beethoven's, with their full
harmonies.' On one occasion Herbert remembers "accompanying him to the
afternoon service at King's, when we heard a very beautiful anthem. At the
end of one of the parts, which was exceedingly impressive, he turned round
to me and said, with a deep sigh, 'How's your backbone?'" He often spoke
of a feeling of coldness or shivering in his back on hearing beautiful
Besides a love of music, he had certainly at this time a love of fine
literature; and Mr. Cameron tells me that he used to read Shakespeare to my
father in his rooms at Christ's, who took much pleasure in it. He also
speaks of his "great liking for first-class line engravings, especially
those of Raphael Morghen and Muller; and he spent hours in the Fitzwilliam
Museum in looking over the prints in that collection."
My father's letters to Fox show how sorely oppressed he felt by the reading
of an examination: "I am reading very hard, and have spirits for nothing.
I actually have not stuck a beetle this term." His despair over
mathematics must have been profound, when he expressed a hope that Fox's
silence is due to "your being ten fathoms deep in the Mathematics; and if
you are, God help you, for so am I, only with this difference, I stick fast
in the mud at the bottom, and there I shall remain." Mr. Herbert says:
"He had, I imagine, no natural turn for mathematics, and he gave up his
mathematical reading before he had mastered the first part of Algebra,
having had a special quarrel with Surds and the Binomial Theorem."
We get some evidence from his letters to Fox of my father's intention of
going into the Church. "I am glad," he writes (March 18, 1829.), "to hear
that you are reading divinity. I should like to know what books you are
reading, and your opinions about them; you need not be afraid of preaching
to me prematurely." Mr. Herbert's sketch shows how doubts arose in my
father's mind as to the possibility of his taking Orders. He writes, "We
had an earnest conversation about going into Holy Orders; and I remember
his asking me, with reference to the question put by the Bishop in the
ordination service, 'Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy
Spirit, etc.,' whether I could answer in the affirmative, and on my saying
I could not, he said, 'Neither can I, and therefore I cannot take orders.'"
This conversation appears to have taken place in 1829, and if so, the
doubts here expressed must have been quieted, for in May 1830, he speaks of
having some thoughts of reading divinity with Henslow.
The greater number of the following letters are addressed by my father to
his cousin, William Darwin Fox. Mr. Fox's relationship to my father is
shown in the pedigree given in Chapter I. The degree of kinship appears to
have remained a problem to my father, as he signs himself in one letter
"cousin/n to the power 2." Their friendship was, in fact, due to their
being undergraduates together. My father's letters show clearly enough how
genuine the friendship was. In after years, distance, large families, and
ill-health on both sides, checked the intercourse; but a warm feeling of
friendship remained. The correspondence was never quite dropped and
continued till Mr. Fox's death in 1880. Mr. Fox took orders, and worked as
a country clergyman until forced by ill-health to leave his living in
Delamare Forest. His love of natural history remained strong, and he
became a skilled fancier of many kinds of birds, etc. The index to
'Animals and Plants,' and my father's later correspondence, show how much
help he received from his old College friend.]
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.M. HERBERT.
[September 14, 1828]. (The postmark being Derby seems to show that the
letter was written from his cousin, W.D. Fox's house, Osmaston, near
My dear old Cherbury,
I am about to fulfil my promise of writing to you, but I am sorry to add
there is a very selfish motive at the bottom. I am going to ask you a
great favour, and you cannot imagine how much you will oblige me by
procuring some more specimens of some insects which I dare say I can
describe. In the first place, I must inform you that I have taken some of
the rarest of the British Insects, and their being found near Barmouth, is
quite unknown to the Entomological world: I think I shall write and inform
some of the crack entomologists.
But now for business. SEVERAL more specimens, if you can procure them
without much trouble, of the following insects:--The violet-black coloured
beetle, found on Craig Storm (The top of the hill immediately behind
Barmouth was called Craig-Storm, a hybrid Cambro-English word.), under
stones, also a large smooth black one very like it; a bluish metallic-
coloured dung-beetle, which is VERY common on the hill-sides; also, if you
WOULD be so very kind as to cross the ferry, and you will find a great
number under the stones on the waste land of a long, smooth, jet-black
beetle (a great many of these); also, in the same situation, a very small
pinkish insect, with black spots, with a curved thorax projecting beyond
the head; also, upon the marshy land over the ferry, near the sea, under
old sea-weed, stones, etc., you will find a small yellowish transparent
beetle, with two or four blackish marks on the back. Under these stones
there are two sorts, one much darker than the other; the lighter-coloured
is that which I want. These last two insects are EXCESSIVELY RARE, and you
will really EXTREMELY oblige me by taking all this trouble pretty soon.
remember me most kindly to Butler, tell him of my success, and I dare say
both of you will easily recognise these insects. I hope his caterpillars
go on well. I think many of the Chrysalises are well worth keeping. I
really am quite ashamed [of] so long a letter all about my own concerns;
but do return good for evil, and send me a long account of all your
In the first week I killed seventy-five head of game--a very contemptible
number--but there are very few birds. I killed, however, a brace of black
game. Since then I have been staying at the Fox's, near Derby; it is a
very pleasant house, and the music meeting went off very well. I want to
hear how Yates likes his gun, and what use he has made of it.
If the bottle is not large you can buy another for me, and when you pass
through Shrewsbury you can leave these treasures, and I hope, if you
possibly can, you will stay a day or two with me, as I hope I need not say
how glad I shall be to see you again. Fox remarked what deuced good-
natured fellows your friends at Barmouth must be; and if I did not know how
you and Butler were so, I would not think of giving you so much trouble.
Believe me, my dear Herbert,
Yours, most sincerely,
Remember me to all friends.
[In the following January we find him looking forward with pleasure to the
beginning of another year of his Cambridge life: he writes to Fox--
"I waited till to-day for the chance of a letter, but I will wait no
longer. I must most sincerely and cordially congratulate you on having
finished all your labours. I think your place a VERY GOOD one considering
by how much you have beaten many men who had the start of you in reading.
I do so wish I were now in Cambridge (a very selfish wish, however, as I
was not with you in all your troubles and misery), to join in all the glory
and happiness, which dangers gone by can give. How we would talk, walk,
and entomologise! Sappho should be the best of bitches, and Dash, of dogs:
then should be 'peace on earth, good will to men,'--which, by the way, I
always think the most perfect description of happiness that words can
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
Cambridge, Thursday [February 26, 1829].
My dear Fox,
When I arrived here on Tuesday I found to my great grief and surprise, a
letter on my table which I had written to you about a fortnight ago, the
stupid porter never took the trouble of getting the letter forwarded. I
suppose you have been abusing me for a most ungrateful wretch; but I am
sure you will pity me now, as nothing is so vexatious as having written a
letter in vain.
Last Thursday I left Shrewsbury for London, and stayed there till Tuesday,
on which I came down here by the 'Times.' The first two days I spent
entirely with Mr. Hope (Founder of the Chair of Zoology at Oxford.), and
did little else but talk about and look at insects; his collection is most
magnificent, and he himself is the most generous of entomologists; he has
given me about 160 new species, and actually often wanted to give me the
rarest insects of which he had only two specimens. He made many civil
speeches, and hoped you will call on him some time with me, whenever we
should happen to be in London. He greatly compliments our exertions in
Entomology, and says we have taken a wonderfully great number of good
insects. On Sunday I spent the day with Holland, who lent me a horse to
ride in the Park with.
On Monday evening I drank tea with Stephens (J.F. Stephens, author of 'A
Manual of British Coleoptera,' 1839, and other works.); his cabinet is more
magnificent than the most zealous entomologist could dream of; he appears
to be a very good-humoured pleasant little man. Whilst in town I went to
the Royal Institution, Linnean Society, and Zoological Gardens, and many
other places where naturalists are gregarious. If you had been with me, I
think London would be a very delightful place; as things were, it was much
pleasanter than I could have supposed such a dreary wilderness of houses to
I shot whilst in Shrewsbury a Dundiver (female Goosander, as I suppose you
know). Shaw has stuffed it, and when I have an opportunity I will send it
to Osmaston. There have been shot also five Waxen Chatterers, three of
which Shaw has for sale; would you like to purchase a specimen? I have not
yet thanked you for your last very long and agreeable letter. It would
have been still more agreeable had it contained the joyful intelligence
that you were coming up here; my two solitary breakfasts have already made
me aware how very very much I shall miss you.
My dear old Fox,
Most sincerely yours,
[Later on in the Lent term he writes to Fox:--
"I am leading a quiet everyday sort of a life; a little of Gibbon's History
in the morning, and a good deal of "Van John" in the evening; this, with an
occasional ride with Simcox and constitutional with Whitley, makes up the
regular routine of my days. I see a good deal both of Herbert and Whitley,
and the more I see of them increases every day the respect I have for their
excellent understandings and dispositions. They have been giving some very
gay parties, nearly sixty men there both evenings."]
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
Christ's College [Cambridge], April 1 .
My dear Fox,
In your letter to Holden you are pleased to observe "that of all the
blackguards you ever met with I am the greatest." Upon this observation I
shall make no remarks, excepting that I must give you all due credit for
acting on it most rigidly. And now I should like to know in what one
particular are you less of a blackguard than I am? You idle old wretch,
why have you not answered my last letter, which I am sure I forwarded to
Clifton nearly three weeks ago? If I was not really very anxious to hear
what you are doing, I should have allowed you to remain till you thought it
worth while to treat me like a gentleman. And now having vented my spleen
in scolding you, and having told you, what you must know, how very much and
how anxiously I want to hear how you and your family are getting on at
Clifton, the purport of this letter is finished. If you did but know how
often I think of you, and how often I regret your absence, I am sure I
should have heard from you long enough ago.
I find Cambridge rather stupid, and as I know scarcely any one that walks,
and this joined with my lips not being quite so well, has reduced me to a
sort of hybernation...I have caught Mr. Harbour letting -- have the first
pick of the beetles; accordingly we have made our final adieus, my part in
the affecting scene consisted in telling him he was a d--d rascal, and
signifying I should kick him down the stairs if ever he appeared in my
rooms again. It seemed altogether mightily to surprise the young
gentleman. I have no news to tell you; indeed, when a correspondence has
been broken off like ours has been, it is difficult to make the first start
again. Last night there was a terrible fire at Linton, eleven miles from
Cambridge. Seeing the reflection so plainly in the sky, Hall, Woodyeare,
Turner, and myself thought we would ride and see it. We set out at half-
past nine, and rode like incarnate devils there, and did not return till
two in the morning. Altogether it was a most awful sight. I cannot
conclude without telling you, that of all the blackguards I ever met with,
you are the greatest and the best.
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
[Cambridge, Thursday, April 23, 1829.]
My dear Fox,
I have delayed answering your last letter for these few days, as I thought
that under such melancholy circumstances my writing to you would be
probably only giving you trouble. This morning I received a letter from
Catherine informing me of that event (The death of Fox's sister, Mrs.
Bristowe.), which, indeed, from your letter, I had hardly dared to hope
would have happened otherwise. I feel most sincerely and deeply for you
and all your family; but at the same time, as far as any one can, by his
own good principles and religion, be supported under such a misfortune,
you, I am assured, will know where to look for such support. And after so
pure and holy a comfort as the Bible affords, I am equally assured how
useless the sympathy of all friends must appear, although it be as
heartfelt and sincere, as I hope you believe me capable of feeling. At
such a time of deep distress I will say nothing more, excepting that I
trust your father and Mrs. Fox bear this blow as well as, under such
circumstances, can be hoped for.
I am afraid it will be a long time, my dear Fox, before we meet; till then,
believe me at all times,
Yours most affectionately,
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
Shrewsbury, Friday [July 4, 1829].
My dear Fox,
I should have written to you before only that whilst our expedition lasted
I was too much engaged, and the conclusion was so unfortunate, that I was
too unhappy to write to you till this week's quiet at home. The thoughts
of Woodhouse next week has at last given me courage to relate my
I started from this place about a fortnight ago to take an entomological
trip with Mr. Hope through all North Wales; and Barmouth was our first
destination. The two first days I went on pretty well, taking several good
insects; but for the rest of that week my lips became suddenly so bad
(Probably with eczema, from which he often suffered.), and I myself not
very well, that I was unable to leave the room, and on the Monday I
retreated with grief and sorrow back again to Shrewsbury. The first two
days I took some good insects...But the days that I was unable to go out,
Mr. Hope did wonders...and to-day I have received another parcel of insects
from him, such Colymbetes, such Carabi, and such magnificent Elaters (two
species of the bright scarlet sort). I am sure you will properly
sympathise with my unfortunate situation: I am determined I will go over
the same ground that he does before autumn comes, and if working hard will
procure insects I will bring home a glorious stock.
My dear Fox,
Yours most sincerely,
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
Shrewsbury, July 18, 1829.
I am going to Maer next week in order to entomologise, and shall stay there
a week, and for the rest of this summer I intend to lead a perfectly idle
and wandering life...You see I am much in the same state that you are, with
this difference, you make good resolutions and never keep them; I never
make them, so cannot keep them; it is all very well writing in this manner,
but I must read for my Little-go. Graham smiled and bowed so very civilly,
when he told me that he was one of the six appointed to make the
examination stricter, and that they were determined this would make it a
very different thing from any previous examination, that from all this I am
sure it will be the very devil to pay amongst all idle men and
entomologists. Erasmus, we expect home in a few weeks' time: he intends
passing next winter in Paris. Be sure you order the two lists of insects
published by Stephens, one printed on both sides, and the other only on
one; you will find them very useful in many points of view.
Dear old Fox, yours,
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
Christ's College, Thursday [October 16, 1829].
My dear Fox,
I am afraid you will be very angry with me for not having written during
the Music Meeting, but really I was worked so hard that I had no time; I
arrived here on Monday and found my rooms in dreadful confusion, as they
have been taking up the floor, and you may suppose that I have had plenty
to do for these two days. The Music Meeting (At Birmingham.) was the most
glorious thing I ever experienced; and as for Malibran, words cannot praise
her enough, she is quite the most charming person I ever saw. We had
extracts out of several of the best operas, acted in character, and you
cannot imagine how very superior it made the concerts to any I ever heard
before. J. de Begnis (De Begnis's Christian name was Giuseppe.) acted 'Il
Fanatico' in character; being dressed up an extraordinary figure gives a
much greater effect to his acting. He kept the whole theatre in roars of
laughter. I liked Madame Blasis very much, but nothing will do after
Malibran, who sung some comic songs, and [a] person's heart must have been
made of stone not to have lost it to her. I lodged very near the
Wedgwoods, and lived entirely with them, which was very pleasant, and had
you been there it would have been quite perfect. It knocked me up most
dreadfully, and I will never attempt again to do two things the same day.
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
[Cambridge] Thursday [March, 1830].
My dear Fox,
I am through my Little-Go!!! I am too much exalted to humble myself by
apologising for not having written before. But I assure you before I went
in, and when my nerves were in a shattered and weak condition, your injured
person often rose before my eyes and taunted me with my idleness. But I am
through, through, through. I could write the whole sheet full with this
delightful word. I went in yesterday, and have just heard the joyful news.
I shall not know for a week which class I am in. The whole examination is
carried on in a different system. It has one grand advantage--being over
in one day. They are rather strict, and ask a wonderful number of
And now I want to know something about your plans; of course you intend
coming up here: what fun we will have together; what beetles we will
catch; it will do my heart good to go once more together to some of our old
haunts. I have two very promising pupils in Entomology, and we will make
regular campaigns into the Fens. Heaven protect the beetles and Mr.
Jenyns, for we won't leave him a pair in the whole country. My new Cabinet
is come down, and a gay little affair it is.
And now for the time--I think I shall go for a few days to town to hear an
opera and see Mr. Hope; not to mention my brother also, whom I should have
no objection to see. If I go pretty soon, you can come afterwards, but if
you will settle your plans definitely, I will arrange mine, so send me a
letter by return of post. And I charge you let it be favourable--that is
to say, come directly. Holden has been ordained, and drove the Coach out
on the Monday. I do not think he is looking very well. Chapman wants you
and myself to pay him a visit when you come up, and begs to be remembered
to you. You must excuse this short letter, as I have no end more to send
off by this day's post. I long to see you again, and till then,
My dear good old Fox,
Yours most sincerely,
[In August he was in North Wales and wrote to Fox:--
"I have been intending to write every hour for the last fortnight, but
REALLY have had no time. I left Shrewsbury this day fortnight ago, and
have since that time been working from morning to night in catching fish or
beetles. This is literally the first idle day I have had to myself; for on
the rainy days I go fishing, on the good ones entomologising. You may
recollect that for the fortnight previous to all this, you told me not to
write, so that I hope I have made out some sort of defence for not having
sooner answered your two long and very agreeable letters."]
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
[Cambridge, November 5, 1830.]
My dear Fox,
I have so little time at present, and am so disgusted by reading that I
have not the heart to write to anybody. I have only written once home
since I came up. This must excuse me for not having answered your three
letters, for which I am really very much obliged...
I have not stuck an insect this term, and scarcely opened a case. If I had
time I would have sent you the insects which I have so long promised; but
really I have not spirits or time to do anything. Reading makes me quite
desperate; the plague of getting up all my subjects is next thing to
intolerable. Henslow is my tutor, and a most ADMIRABLE one he makes; the
hour with him is the pleasantest in the whole day. I think he is quite the
most perfect man I ever met with. I have been to some very pleasant
parties there this term. His good-nature is unbounded.
I am sure you will be sorry to hear poor old Whitley's father is dead. In
a worldly point of view it is of great consequence to him, as it will
prevent him going to the Bar for some time.--(Be sure answer this:) What
did you pay for the iron hoop you had made in Shrewsbury? Because I do not
mean to pay the whole of the Cambridge man's bill. You need not trouble
yourself about the Phallus, as I have bought up both species. I have heard
men say that Henslow has some curious religious opinions. I never
perceived anything of it, have you? I am very glad to hear, after all your
delays, you have heard of a curacy where you may read all the commandments
without endangering your throat. I am also still more glad to hear that
your mother continues steadily to improve. I do trust that you will have
no further cause for uneasiness. With every wish for your happiness, my
dear old Fox,
Believe me yours most sincerely,
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
Cambridge, Sunday, January 23, 1831.
My dear Fox,
I do hope you will excuse my not writing before I took my degree. I felt a
quite inexplicable aversion to write to anybody. But now I do most
heartily congratulate you upon passing your examination, and hope you find
your curacy comfortable. If it is my last shilling (I have not many), I
will come and pay you a visit.
I do not know why the degree should make one so miserable, both before and
afterwards. I recollect you were sufficiently wretched before, and I can
assure [you] I am now, and what makes it the more ridiculous is, I know not
what about. I believe it is a beautiful provision of nature to make one
regret the less leaving so pleasant a place as Cambridge; and amongst all
its pleasures--I say it for once and for all--none so great as my
friendship with you. I sent you a newspaper yesterday, in which you will
see what a good place [10th] I have got in the Poll. As for Christ's, did
you ever see such a college for producing Captains and Apostles? (The
"Captain" is at the head of the "Poll": the "Apostles" are the last twelve
in the Mathematical Tripos.) There are no men either at Emmanuel or
Christ's plucked. Cameron is gulfed, together with other three Trinity
scholars! My plans are not at all settled. I think I shall keep this
term, and then go and economise at Shrewsbury, return and take my degree.
A man may be excused for writing so much about himself when he has just
passed the examination; so you must excuse [me]. And on the same principle
do you write a letter brimful of yourself and plans. I want to know
something about your examination. Tell me about the state of your nerves;
what books you got up, and how perfect. I take an interest about that sort
of thing, as the time will come when I must suffer. Your tutor, Thompson,
begged to be remembered to you, and so does Whitley. If you will answer
this, I will send as many stupid answers as you can desire.
Believe me, dear Fox,
THE APPOINTMENT TO THE 'BEAGLE.'
[In a letter addressed to Captain Fitz-Roy, before the "Beagle" sailed, my
father wrote, "What a glorious day the 4th of November (The "Beagle" did
not however make her final and successful start until December 27.) will be
to me--my second life will then commence, and it shall be as a birthday for
the rest of my life."
The circumstances which led to this second birth--so much more important
than my father then imagined--are connected with his Cambridge life, but
may be more appropriately told in the present chapter. Foremost in the
chain of circumstances which lead to his appointment to the "Beagle", was
my father's friendship with Professor Henslow. He wrote in a pocket-book
or diary, which contain a brief record of dates, etc., throughout his
"1831. CHRISTMAS.--Passed my examination for B.A. degree and kept the two
"During these months lived much with Professor Henslow, often dining with
him and walking with him; became slightly acquainted with several of the
learned men in Cambridge, which much quickened the zeal which dinner
parties and hunting had not destroyed.
"In the spring paid Mr. Dawes a visit with Ramsay and Kirby, and talked
over an excursion to Teneriffe. In the spring Henslow persuaded me to
think of Geology, and introduced me to Sedgwick. During Midsummer
geologised a little in Shropshire.
"AUGUST.--Went on Geological tour (Mentioned by Sedgwick in his preface to
Salter's 'Catalogue of Cambrian and Silurian Fossils,' 1873.) by
Llangollen, Ruthin, Conway, Bangor, and Capel Curig, where I left Professor
Sedgwick, and crossed the mountain to Barmouth."
In a letter to Fox (May, 1831), my father writes:--"I am very busy...and
see a great deal of Henslow, whom I do not know whether I love or respect
most." His feeling for this admirable man is finely expressed in a letter
which he wrote to Rev. L. Blomefield (then Rev. L. Jenyns), when the latter
was engaged in his 'Memoir of Professor Henslow' (published 1862). The
passage ('Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, M.A.,' by the Rev.
Leonard Jenyns. 8vo. London, 1862, page 51.) has been made use of in the
first of the memorial notices written for 'Nature,' and Mr. Romanes points
out that my father, "while describing the character of another, is
unconsciously giving a most accurate description of his own":--
"I went to Cambridge early in the year 1828, and soon became acquainted,
through some of my brother entomologists, with Professor Henslow, for all
who cared for any branch of natural history were equally encouraged by him.
Nothing could be more simple, cordial, and unpretending than the
encouragement which he afforded to all young naturalists. I soon became
intimate with him, for he had a remarkable power of making the young feel
completely at ease with him; though we were all awe-struck with the amount
of his knowledge. Before I saw him, I heard one young man sum up his
attainments by simply saying that he knew everything. When I reflect how
immediately we felt at perfect ease with a man older, and in every way so
immensely our superior, I think it was as much owing to the transparent
sincerity of his character as to his kindness of heart; and, perhaps, even
still more, to a highly remarkable absence in him of all self-
consciousness. One perceived at once that he never thought of his own
varied knowledge or clear intellect, but solely on the subject in hand.
Another charm, which must have struck every one, was that his manner to old
and distinguished persons and to the youngest student was exactly the same:
and to all he showed the same winning courtesy. He would receive with
interest the most trifling observation in any branch of natural history;
and however absurd a blunder one might make, he pointed it out so clearly
and kindly, that one left him no way disheartened, but only determined to
be more accurate the next time. In short, no man could be better formed to
win the entire confidence of the young, and to encourage them in their
"His lectures on Botany were universally popular, and as clear as daylight.
So popular were they, that several of the older members of the University
attended successive courses. Once every week he kept open house in the
evening, and all who cared for natural history attended these parties,
which, by thus favouring inter-communication, did the same good in
Cambridge, in a very pleasant manner, as the Scientific Societies do in
London. At these parties many of the most distinguished members of the
University occasionally attended; and when only a few were present, I have
listened to the great men of those days, conversing on all sorts of
subjects, with the most varied and brilliant powers. This was no small
advantage to some of the younger men, as it stimulated their mental
activity and ambition. Two or three times in each session he took
excursions with his botanical class; either a long walk to the habitat of
some rare plant, or in a barge down the river to the fens, or in coaches to
some more distant place, as to Gamlingay, to see the wild lily of the
valley, and to catch on the heath the rare natter-jack. These excursions
have left a delightful impression on my mind. He was, on such occasions,
in as good spirits as a boy, and laughed as heartily as a boy at the
misadventures of those who chased the splendid swallow-tail butterflies
across the broken and treacherous fens. He used to pause every now and
then to lecture on some plant or other object; and something he could tell
us on every insect, shell, or fossil collected, for he had attended to
every branch of natural history. After our day's work we used to dine at
some inn or house, and most jovial we then were. I believe all who joined
these excursions will agree with me that they have left an enduring
impression of delight on our minds.
"As time passed on at Cambridge I became very intimate with Professor
Henslow, and his kindness was unbounded; he continually asked me to his
house, and allowed me to accompany him in his walks. He talked on all
subjects, including his deep sense of religion, and was entirely open. I
own more than I can express to this excellent man...
"During the years when I associated so much with Professor Henslow, I never
once saw his temper even ruffled. He never took an ill-natured view of any
one's character, though very far from blind to the foibles of others. It
always struck me that his mind could not be even touched by any paltry
feeling of vanity, envy, or jealousy. With all this equability of temper
and remarkable benevolence, there was no insipidity of character. A man
must have been blind not to have perceived that beneath this placid
exterior there was a vigorous and determined will. When principle came
into play, no power on earth could have turned him one hair's-breadth...
"Reflecting over his character with gratitude and reverence, his moral
attributes rise, as they should do in the highest character, in pre-
eminence over his intellect."
In a letter to Rev. L. Blomefield (Jenyns), May 24, 1862, my father wrote
with the same feelings that he had expressed in his letters thirty years
"I thank you most sincerely for your kind present of your Memoir of
Henslow. I have read about half, and it has interested me much. I do not
think that I could have venerated him more than I did; but your book has
even exalted his character in my eyes. From turning over the pages of the
latter half, I should think your account would be invaluable to any
clergyman who wished to follow poor dear Henslow's noble example. What an
admirable man he was."
The geological work mentioned in the quotation from my father's pocket-book
was doubtless of importance as giving him some practical experience, and
perhaps of more importance in helping to give him some confidence in
himself. In July of the same year, 1831, he was "working like a tiger" at
Geology, and trying to make a map of Shropshire, but not finding it "as
easy as I expected."
In writing to Henslow about the same time, he gives some account of his
"I should have written to you some time ago, only I was determined to wait
for the clinometer, and I am very glad to say I think it will answer
admirably. I put all the tables in my bedroom at every conceivable angle
and direction. I will venture to say I have measured them as accurately as
any geologist going could do...I have been working at so many things that I
have not got on much with geology. I suspect the first expedition I take,
clinometer and hammer in hand, will send me back very little wiser and a
good deal more puzzled than when I started. As yet I have only indulged in
hypotheses, but they are such powerful ones that I suppose, if they were
put into action for but one day, the world would come to an end."
He was evidently most keen to get to work with Sedgwick, for he wrote to
Henslow: "I have not heard from Professor Sedgwick, so I am afraid he will
not pay the Severn formations a visit. I hope and trust you did your best
to urge him."
My father has given in his Recollections some account of this Tour.
There too we read of the projected excursion to the Canaries, of which
slight mention occurs in letters to Fox and Henslow.
In April 1831 he writes to Fox: "At present I talk, think, and dream of a
scheme I have almost hatched of going to the Canary Islands. I have long
had a wish of seeing tropical scenery and vegetation, and, according to
Humboldt, Teneriffe is a very pretty specimen." And again in May: "As for
my Canary scheme, it is rash of you to ask questions; my other friends most
sincerely wish me there, I plague them so with talking about tropical
scenery, etc. Eyton will go next summer, and I am learning Spanish."
Later on in the summer the scheme took more definite form, and the date
seems to have been fixed for June, 1832. He got information in London
about passage-money, and in July was working at Spanish and calling Fox "un
grandisimo lebron," in proof of his knowledge of the language; which,
however, he found "intensely stupid." But even then he seems to have had
some doubts about his companions' zeal, for he writes to Henslow (July 27,
1831): "I hope you continue to fan your Canary ardour. I read and re-read
Humboldt; do you do the same? I am sure nothing will prevent us seeing the
Great Dragon Tree."
Geological work and Teneriffe dreams carried him through the summer, till
on returning from Barmouth for the sacred 1st of September, he received the
offer of appointment as Naturalist to the "Beagle".
The following extract from the pocket-book will be a help in reading the
"Returned to Shrewsbury at end of August. Refused offer of voyage.
"September.--Went to Maer, returned with Uncle Jos. to Shrewsbury, thence
to Cambridge. London.
"11th.--Went with Captain Fitz-Roy in steamer to Plymouth to see the
"22nd.--Returned to Shrewsbury, passing through Cambridge.
"October 2nd.--Took leave of my home. Stayed in London.
"October and November.--These months very miserable.
"December 10th.--Sailed, but were obliged to put back.
"21st.--Put to sea again, and were driven back.
"27th.--Sailed from England on our Circumnavigation."
GEORGE PEACOCK (Formerly Dean of Ely, and Lowndean Professor of Astronomy
at Cambridge.) TO J.S. HENSLOW.
7 Suffolk Street, Pall Mall East.
My dear Henslow,
Captain Fitz-Roy is going out to survey the southern coast of Tierra del
Fuego, and afterwards to visit many of the South Sea Islands, and to return
by the Indian Archipelago. The vessel is fitted out expressly for
scientific purposes, combined with the survey; it will furnish, therefore,
a rare opportunity for a naturalist, and it would be a great misfortune
that it should be lost.
An offer has been made to me to recommend a proper person to go out as a
naturalist with this expedition; he will be treated with every
consideration. The Captain is a young man of very pleasing manners (a
nephew of the Duke of Grafton), of great zeal in his profession, and who is
very highly spoken of; if Leonard Jenyns could go, what treasures he might
bring home with him, as the ship would be placed at his disposal whenever
his inquiries made it necessary or desirable. In the absence of so
accomplished a naturalist, is there any person whom you could strongly
recommend? he must be such a person as would do credit to our
recommendation. Do think of this subject, it would be a serious loss to
the cause of natural science if this fine opportunity was lost.
The ship sails about the end of September.
Write immediately, and tell me what can be done.
My dear Henslow,
Most truly yours,
J.S. HENSLOW TO C. DARWIN.
Cambridge, August 24, 1831.
My dear Darwin,
Before I enter upon the immediate business of this letter, let us condole
together upon the loss of our inestimable friend poor Ramsay, of whose
death you have undoubtedly heard long before this.
I will not now dwell upon this painful subject, as I shall hope to see you
shortly, fully expecting that you will eagerly catch at the offer which is
likely to be made you of a trip to Tierra del Fuego, and home by the East
Indies. I have been asked by Peacock, who will read and forward this to
you from London, to recommend him a Naturalist as companion to Captain
Fitz-Roy, employed by Government to survey the southern extremity of
America. I have stated that I consider you to be the best qualified person
I know of who is likely to undertake such a situation. I state this not in
the supposition of your being a FINISHED naturalist, but as amply qualified
for collecting, observing, and noting, anything worthy to be noted in
Natural History. Peacock has the appointment at his disposal, and if he
cannot find a man willing to take the office, the opportunity will probably
be lost. Captain Fitz-Roy wants a man (I understand) more as a companion
than a mere collector, and would not take any one, however good a
naturalist, who was not recommended to him likewise as a GENTLEMAN.
Particulars of salary, etc., I know nothing. The voyage is to last two
years, and if you take plenty of books with you, anything you please may be
done. You will have ample opportunities at command. In short, I suppose
there never was a finer chance for a man of zeal and spirit; Captain Fitz-
Roy is a young man. What I wish you to do is instantly to come and consult
with Peacock (at No. 7 Suffolk Street, Pall Mall East, or else at the
University Club), and learn further particulars. Don't put on any modest
doubts or fears about your disqualifications, for I assure you I think you
are the very man they are in search of; so conceive yourself to be tapped
on the shoulder by your bum-bailiff and affectionate friend,
The expedition is to sail on 25th September (at earliest), so there is no
time to be lost.
G. PEACOCK TO C. DARWIN.
My dear Sir,
I received Henslow's letter last night too late to forward it to you by the
post; a circumstance which I do not regret, as it has given me an
opportunity of seeing Captain Beaufort at the Admiralty (the Hydrographer),
and of stating to him the offer which I have to make to you. He entirely
approves of it, and you may consider the situation as at your absolute
disposal. I trust that you will accept it, as it is an opportunity which
should not be lost, and I look forward with great interest to the benefit
which our collections of Natural History may receive from your labours.
The circumstances are these;--
Captain Fitz-Roy (a nephew of the Duke of Grafton) sails at the end of
September, in a ship to survey, in the first instance, the South Coast of
Tierra del Fuego, afterwards to visit the South Sea Islands, and to return
by the Indian Archipelago to England. The expedition is entirely for
scientific purposes, and the ship will generally wait your leisure for
researches in Natural History, etc. Captain Fitz-Roy is a public-spirited
and zealous officer, of delightful manners, and greatly beloved by all his
brother officers. He went with Captain Beechey (For 'Beechey' read 'King.'
I do not find the name Fitz-Roy in the list of Beechey's officers. The
Fuegians were brought back from Captain King's voyage.), and spent 1500
pounds in bringing over and educating at his own charge three natives of
Patagonia. He engages at his own expense an artist at 200 pounds a year to
go with him. You may be sure, therefore, of having a very pleasant
companion, who will enter heartily into all your views.
The ship sails about the end of September, and you must lose no time in
making known your acceptance to Captain Beaufort, Admiralty Hydrographer.
I have had a good deal of correspondence about this matter [with Henslow?],
who feels, in common with myself, the greatest anxiety that you should go.
I hope that no other arrangements are likely to interfere with it.
The Admiralty are not disposed to give a salary, though they will furnish
you with an official appointment, and every accommodation. If a salary
should be required, however, I am inclined to think that it would be
Believe me, my dear Sir,
Very truly yours,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
Shrewsbury, Tuesday [August 30?, 1831].
My dear Sir,
Mr. Peacock's letter arrived on Saturday, and I received it late yesterday
evening. As far as my own mind is concerned, I should, I think CERTAINLY,
most gladly have accepted the opportunity which you so kindly have offered
me. But my father, although he does not decidedly refuse me, gives such
strong advice against going, that I should not be comfortable if I did not
My father's objections are these: the unfitting me to settle down as a
Clergyman, my little habit of seafaring, THE SHORTNESS OF THE TIME, and the
chance of my not suiting Captain Fitz-Roy. It is certainly a very serious
objection, the very short time for all my preparations, as not only body
but mind wants making up for such an undertaking. But if it had not been
for my father I would have taken all risks. What was the reason that a
Naturalist was not long ago fixed upon? I am very much obliged for the
trouble you have had about it; there certainly could not have been a better
My trip with Sedgwick answered most perfectly. I did not hear of poor Mr.
Ramsay's loss till a few days before your letter. I have been lucky
hitherto in never losing any person for whom I had any esteem or affection.
My acquaintance, although very short, was sufficient to give me those
feelings in a great degree. I can hardly make myself believe he is no
more. He was the finest character I ever knew.
Yours most sincerely,
My dear Sir,
I have written to Mr. Peacock, and I mentioned that I have asked you to
send one line in the chance of his not getting my letter. I have also
asked him to communicate with Captain Fitz-Roy. Even if I was to go, my
father disliking would take away all energy, and I should want a good stock
of that. Again I must thank you, it adds a little to the heavy but
pleasant load of gratitude which I owe to you.
CHARLES DARWIN TO R.W. DARWIN.
[Maer] August 31, .
My dear Father,
I am afraid I am going to make you again very uncomfortable. But, upon
consideration, I think you will excuse me once again, stating my opinions
on the offer of the voyage. My excuse and reason is the different way all
the Wedgwoods view the subject from what you and my sisters do.
I have given Uncle Jos (Josiah Wedgwood.) what I fervently trust is an
accurate and full list of your objections, and he is kind enough to give
his opinions on all. The list and his answers will be enclosed. But may I
beg of you one favour, it will be doing me the greatest kindness, if you
will send me a decided answer, yes or no? If the latter, I should be most
ungrateful if I did not implicitly yield to your better judgment, and to
the kindest indulgence you have shown me all through my life; and you may
rely upon it I will never mention the subject again. If your answer should
be yes; I will go directly to Henslow and consult deliberately with him,
and then come to Shrewsbury.
The danger appears to me and all the Wedgwoods not great. The expense
cannot be serious, and the time I do not think, anyhow, would be more
thrown away then if I stayed at home. But pray do not consider that I am
so bent on going that I would for one SINGLE MOMENT hesitate, if you
thought that after a short period you should continue uncomfortable.
I must again state I cannot think it would unfit me hereafter for a steady
life. I do hope this letter will not give you much uneasiness. I send it
by the car to-morrow morning; if you make up your mind directly will you
send me an answer on the following day by the same means? If this letter
should not find you at home, I hope you will answer as soon as you
I do not know what to say about Uncle Jos' kindness; I never can forget how
he interests himself about me.
Believe me, my dear father,
Your affectionate son,
[Here follows the list of objections which are referred to in the following
1. Disreputable to my character as a Clergyman hereafter.
2. A wild scheme.
3. That they must have offered to many others before me the place of
4. And from its not being accepted there must be some serious objection to
the vessel or expedition.
5. That I should never settle down to a steady life hereafter.
6. That my accommodations would be most uncomfortable.
7. That you [i.e. Dr. Darwin] should consider it as again changing my
8. That it would be a useless undertaking.]
JOSIAH WEDGWOOD TO R.W. DARWIN.
Maer, August 31, 1831.
[Read this last.] (In C. Darwin's writing.)
My dear Doctor,
I feel the responsibility of your application to me on the offer that has
been made to Charles as being weighty, but as you have desired Charles to
consult me, I cannot refuse to give the result of such consideration as I
have been able to [give?] it.
Charles has put down what he conceives to be your principal objections, and
I think the best course I can take will be to state what occurs to me upon
each of them.
1. I should not think that it would be in any degree disreputable to his
character as a Clergyman. I should on the contrary think the offer
honourable to him; and the pursuit of Natural History, though certainly not
professional, is very suitable to a clergyman.
2. I hardly know how to meet this objection, but he would have definite
objects upon which to employ himself, and might acquire and strengthen
habits of application, and I should think would be as likely to do so as in
any way in which he is likely to pass the next two years at home.
3. The notion did not occur to me in reading the letters; and on reading
them again with that object in my mind I see no ground for it.
4. I cannot conceive that the Admiralty would send out a bad vessel on
such a service. As to objections to the expedition, they will differ in
each man's case, and nothing would, I think, be inferred in Charles's case,
if it were known that others had objected.
5. You are a much better judge of Charles's character than I can be. If
on comparing this mode of spending the next two years with the way in which
he will probably spend them, if he does not accept this offer, you think
him more likely to be rendered unsteady and unable to settle, it is
undoubtedly a weighty objection. Is it not the case that sailors are prone
to settle in domestic and quiet habits?
6. I can form no opinion on this further than that if appointed by the
Admiralty he will have a claim to be as well accommodated as the vessel
7. If I saw Charles now absorbed in professional studies I should probably
think it would not be advisable to interrupt them; but this is not, and, I
think, will not be the case with him. His present pursuit of knowledge is
in the same track as he would have to follow in the expedition.
8. The undertaking would be useless as regards his profession, but looking
upon him as a man of enlarged curiosity, it affords him such an opportunity
of seeing men and things as happens to few.
You will bear in mind that I have had very little time for consideration,
and that you and Charles are the persons who must decide.
My dear Doctor,
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
Cambridge, Red Lion [September 2], 1831.
My dear Sir,
I am just arrived; you will guess the reason. My father has changed his
mind. I trust the place is not given away.
I am very much fatigued, and am going to bed.
I dare say you have not yet got my second letter.
How soon shall I come to you in the morning? Send a verbal answer.
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS SUSAN DARWIN.
Cambridge, Sunday Morning [September 4].
My dear Susan,
As a letter would not have gone yesterday, I put off writing till to-day.
I had rather a wearisome journey, but got into Cambridge very fresh. The
whole of yesterday I spent with Henslow, thinking of what is to be done,
and that I find is a great deal. By great good luck I know a man of the
name of Wood, nephew of Lord Londonderry. He is a great friend of Captain
Fitz-Roy, and has written to him about me. I heard a part of Captain Fitz-
Roy's letter, dated some time ago, in which he says: "I have a right good
set of officers, and most of my men have been there before." It seems he
has been there for the last few years; he was then second in command with
the same vessel that he has now chosen. He is only twenty-three years old,
but [has] seen a deal of service, and won the gold medal at Portsmouth.
The Admiralty say his maps are most perfect. He had choice of two vessels,
and he chose the smallest. Henslow will give me letters to all travellers
in town whom he thinks may assist me.
Peacock has sole appointment of Naturalist. The first person offered was
Leonard Jenyns, who was so near accepting it that he packed up his clothes.
But having [a] living, he did not think it right to leave it--to the great
regret of all his family. Henslow himself was not very far from accepting
it, for Mrs. Henslow most generously, and without being asked, gave her
consent; but she looked so miserable that Henslow at once settled the
I am afraid there will be a good deal of expense at first. Henslow is much
against taking many things; it is [the] mistake all young travellers fall
into. I write as if it was settled, but Henslow tells me BY NO MEANS to
make up my mind till I have had long conversations with Captains Beaufort
and Fitz-Roy. Good-bye. You will hear from me constantly. Direct 17
Spring Gardens. TELL NOBODY in Shropshire yet. Be sure not.
I was so tired that evening I was in Shrewsbury that I thanked none of you
for your kindness half so much as I felt.
Love to my father.
The reason I don't want people told in Shropshire: in case I should not
go, it will make it more flat.
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS S. DARWIN.
17 Spring Gardens, Monday
[September 5, 1831].
I have so little time to spare that I have none to waste in re-writing
letters, so that you must excuse my bringing up the other with me and
altering it. The last letter was written in the morning. In [the] middle
of [the] day, Wood received a letter from Captain Fitz-Roy, which I must
say was MOST straightforward and GENTLEMANLIKE, but so much against my
going, that I immediately gave up the scheme; and Henslow did the same,
saying that he thought Peacock had acted VERY WRONG in misrepresenting
things so much.
I scarcely thought of going to town, but here I am; and now for more
details, and much more promising ones. Captain Fitz-Roy is [in] town, and
I have seen him; it is no use attempting to praise him as much as I feel
inclined to do, for you would not believe me. One thing I am certain,
nothing could be more open and kind than he was to me. It seems he had
promised to take a friend with him, who is in office and cannot go, and he
only received the letter five minutes before I came in; and this makes
things much better for me, as want of room was one of Fitz-Roy's greatest
objections. He offers me to go share in everything in his cabin if I like
to come, and every sort of accommodation that I can have, but they will not
be numerous. He says nothing would be so miserable for him as having me
with him if I was uncomfortable, as in a small vessel we must be thrown
together, and thought it his duty to state everything in the worst point of
view. I think I shall go on Sunday to Plymouth to see the vessel.
There is something most extremely attractive in his manners and way of
coming straight to the point. If I live with him, he says I must live
poorly--no wine, and the plainest dinners. The scheme is not certainly so
good as Peacock describes. Captain Fitz-Roy advises me not [to] make up my
mind quite yet, but that, seriously, he thinks it will have much more
pleasure than pain for me. The vessel does not sail till the 10th of
October. It contains sixty men, five or six officers, etc., but is a small
vessel. It will probably be out nearly three years. I shall pay to the
mess the same as [the] Captain does himself, 30 pounds per annum; and Fitz-
Roy says if I spend, including my outfitting, 500 pounds, it will be beyond
the extreme. But now for still worse news. The round the world is not
CERTAIN, but the chance most excellent. Till that point is decided, I will
not be so. And you may believe, after the many changes I have made, that
nothing but my reason shall decide me.
Fitz-Roy says the stormy sea is exaggerated; that if I do not choose to
remain with them, I can at any time get home to England, so many vessels
sail that way, and that during bad weather (probably two months), if I like
I shall be left in some healthy, safe and nice country; that I shall always
have assistance; that he has many books, all instruments, guns, at my
service; that the fewer and cheaper clothes I take the better. The manner
of proceeding will just suit me. They anchor the ship, and then remain for
a fortnight at a place. I have made Captain Beaufort perfectly understand
me. He says if I start and do not go round the world, I shall have good
reason to think myself deceived. I am to call the day after to-morrow,
and, if possible, to receive more certain instructions. The want of room
is decidedly the most serious objection; but Captain Fitz-Roy (probably
owing to Wood's letter) seems determined to make me [as] comfortable as he
possibly can. I like his manner of proceeding. He asked me at once,
"Shall you bear being told that I want the cabin to myself--when I want to
be alone? If we treat each other this way, I hope we shall suit; if not,
probably we should wish each other at the devil."
We stop a week at [the] Madeira Islands, and shall see most of [the] big
cities in South America. Captain Beaufort is drawing up the track through
the South Sea. I am writing in [a] great hurry; I do not know whether you
take interest enough to excuse treble postage. I hope I am judging
reasonably, and not through prejudice, about Captain Fitz-Roy; if so, I am
sure we shall suit. I dine with him to-day. I could write [a] great deal
more if I thought you liked it, and I had at present time. There is indeed
a tide in the affairs of man, and I have experienced it, and I had ENTIRELY
given it up till one to-day.
Love to my father. Dearest Susan, good-bye.
CHARLES DARWIN TO J.S. HENSLOW.
London, Monday, [September 5, 1831].
My dear Sir,
Gloria in excelsis is the most moderate beginning I can think of. Things
are more prosperous than I should have thought possible. Captain Fitz-Roy
is everything that is delightful. If I was to praise half so much as I
feel inclined, you would say it was absurd, only once seeing him. I think
he really wishes to have me. He offers me to mess with him, and he will
take care I have such room as is possible. But about the cases he says I
must limit myself; but then he thinks like a sailor about size. Captain
Beaufort says I shall be upon the Boards, and then it will only cost me
like other officers. Ship sails 10th of October. Spends a week at Madeira
Islands; and then Rio de Janeiro. They all think most extremely probable,
home by the Indian archipelago; but till that is decided, I will not be so.
What has induced Captain Fitz-Roy to take a better view of the case is,
that Mr. Chester, who was going as a friend, cannot go, so that I shall
have his place in every respect.
Captain Fitz-Roy has [a] good stock of books, many of which were in my
list, and rifles, etc., so that the outfit will be much less expensive than
The vessel will be out three years. I do not object so that my father does
not. On Wednesday I have another interview with Captain Beaufort, and on
Sunday most likely go with Captain Fitz-Roy to Plymouth. So I hope you
will keep on thinking on the subject, and just keep memoranda of what may
strike you. I will call most probably on Mr. Burchell and introduce
myself. I am in lodgings at 17 Spring Gardens. You cannot imagine
anything more pleasant, kind, and open than Captain Fitz-Roy's manners were
to me. I am sure it will be my fault if we do not suit.
What changes I have had. Till one to-day I was building castles in the air
about hunting foxes the Shropshire, now llamas in South America.
There is indeed a tide in the affairs of men. If you see Mr. Wood,
remember me very kindly to him.
My dear Henslow,
Your most sincere friend,
Excuse this letter in such a hurry.
CHARLES DARWIN TO W.D. FOX.
17 Spring Gardens, London,
September 6, 1831.
Your letter gave me great pleasure. You cannot imagine how much your
former letter annoyed and hurt me. (He had misunderstood a letter of Fox's
as implying a charge of falsehood.) But, thank heaven, I firmly believe
that it was my OWN ENTIRE fault in so interpreting your letter. I lost a
friend the other day, and I doubt whether the moral death (as I then
wickedly supposed) of our friendship did not grieve me as much as the real
and sudden death of poor Ramsay. We have known each other too long to
need, I trust, any more explanations. But I will mention just one thing--
that on my death-bed, I think I could say I never uttered one insincere
(which at the time I did not fully feel) expression about my regard for
you. One thing more--the sending IMMEDIATELY the insects, on my honour,
was an unfortunate coincidence. I forgot how you naturally would take
them. When you look at them now, I hope no unkindly feelings will rise in
your mind, and that you will believe that you have always had in me a
sincere, and I will add, an obliged friend. The very many pleasant minutes
that we spent together in Cambridge rose like departed spirits in judgment
against me. May we have many more such, will be one of my last wishes in
leaving England. God bless you, dear old Fox. May you always be happy.
I have left your letter behind, so do not know whether I direct right.
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS SUSAN DARWIN.
17 Spring Gardens, Tuesday,
[September 6, 1831.]
My dear Susan,
Again I am going to trouble you. I suspect, if I keep on at this rate, you
will sincerely wish me at Tierra del Fuego, or any other Terra, but
England. First I will give my commissions. Tell Nancy to make me some
twelve instead of eight shirts. Tell Edward to send me up in my carpet-bag
(he can slip the key in the bag tied to some string), my slippers, a pair
of lightish walking-shoes, my Spanish books, my new microscope (about six
inches long and three or four deep), which must have cotton stuffed inside;
my geological compass; my father knows that; a little book, if I have got
it in my bedroom--'Taxidermy.' Ask my father if he thinks there would be
any objection to my taking arsenic for a little time, as my hands are not
quite well, and I have always observed that if I once get them well, and
change my manner of living about the same time, they will generally remain
well. What is the dose? Tell Edward my gun is dirty. What is Erasmus's
direction? Tell me if you think there is time to write and receive an
answer before I start, as I should like particularly to know what he thinks
about it. I suppose you do not know Sir J. Mackintosh's direction?
I write all this as if it was settled, but it is not more than it was,
excepting that from Captain Fitz-Roy wishing me so much to go, and from his
kindness, I feel a predestination I shall start. I spent a very pleasant
evening with him yesterday. He must be more than twenty-three years old;
he is of a slight figure, and a dark but handsome edition of Mr. Kynaston,
and, according to my notions, pre-eminently good manners. He is all for
economy, excepting on one point--viz., fire-arms. He recommends me
strongly to get a case of pistols like his, which cost 60 pounds!! and
never to go on shore anywhere without loaded ones, and he is doubting about
a rifle; he says I cannot appreciate the luxury of fresh meat here. Of
course I shall buy nothing till everything is settled; but I work all day
long at my lists, putting in and striking out articles. This is the first
really cheerful day I have spent since I received the letter, and it all is
owing to the sort of involuntary confidence I place in my beau ideal of a
We stop at Teneriffe. His object is to stop at as many places as possible.
He takes out twenty chronometers, and it will be a "sin" not to settle the
longitude. He tells me to get it down in writing at the Admiralty that I
have the free choice to leave as soon and whenever I like. I dare say you
expect I shall turn back at the Madeira; if I have a morsel of stomach
left, I won't give up. Excuse my so often troubling and writing: the one
is of great utility, the other a great amusement to me. Most likely I
shall write to-morrow. Answer by return of post. Love to my father,
As my instruments want altering, send my things by the 'Oxonian' the same
CHARLES DARWIN TO MISS SUSAN DARWIN.
London, Friday Morning, September 9, 1831.
My dear Susan,
I have just received the parcel. I suppose it was not delivered yesterday
owing to the Coronation. I am very much obliged to my father, and
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