RECORD: Keith, A. 1922. Darwin's famous home. The Straits Times (29 November), p. 11. Transcribed by Christine Chua, edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 10.2019. RN1

NOTE: Introduction by Christine Chua:

Sir Arthur Keith (1866-1955), together with financial aid from Sir Buckston Browne (1850-1945) successfully persuaded the British Association to form the Darwin Museum in Darwin's home, Down House. He retired as conservator in 1933 and lived in Downe. He wrote and published, mostly on evolution and Darwinism from the house. Both he was his wife Celia Caroline Gray died there. They had no children.


11

Darwin's famous home

Where a Great Miracle Was Wrought.

Professor Sir Arthur Keith, F.R.S., has a charming description in the R.P.A. Annual of a recent visit to Charles Darwin's old home at Down – then a girls' school. He pleads that the house may be preserved in memory of that great pioneer.

Londoners living on the northern heights often mark the Crystal Palace gleaming high above the south-eastern suburbs, but few know, or care to know, that only eight miles beyond, nestling in a hollow of the wooden chalk downs of Kent, is the village of Down, and near by Down House, where Charles Darwin, single handed, wrought the miracle of the nineteenth century.

For the man who changed the outlook of all thinking men throughout the world, and transformed the face of all kinds of learning, surely performed a miracle. But if the student of Darwin's works longs to know the home in which they were produced, and the establishment of which their author was master, he will easily come by a description of them.

Yet to really appreciate and understand the writings of Charles Darwin it is essential to have a mental picture of their birthplace. It seems to me that this neglect of Darwin's home and of Darwin's life is symptomatic of an ignorance or indifference on the part of the rising generation of scientific men of how much they owe to Darwin and to Down. The day will assuredly come when Down will rival Stratford-on-Avon as a Mecca for pilgrims.

Readers of Sir Francis Darwin's Life of his father are familiar with the picture given there of Darwin's home at Down. Before giving quotations from that work I may remind my readers that prior to moving into Kent Darwin lived in Glower Street. He made his home there when he married, January 29, 1839, having then almost completed his thirtieth year:-

On September 14, 1842, my father left London with his family and settled at Down. In the Autobiographical chapter his motives for moving into the country are briefly given. He speaks of the attendance at scientific societies and ordinary social duties as suiting his health so "badly that we resolved to live in the country, which we both preferred and have never repented of."

The choice of Down was rather the result of the despair than of actual preference; my father and mother were weary of house-hunting, and the attractive points about the place thus seemed to them to counterbalance its somewhat more obvious faults. I had at last one desideratum – namely, quietness.

Where "Origin of Species" was Written.

In a gleamy morning of February, 1921, I found myself in the lane mentioned in Sir Francis Darwin's description, leaning against the flint wall which his father built to separate passers by from the frontage and approach to Down House. As I stood there, I instinctively began to count the windows in the stucco-visaged middle block, fifteen in all, five to each of the three floors. The two windows on the ground floor to my right I recognise as those of the old study in which the Origin of Species was written; the three in the same row to the left certainly open into the 'old dining room'; the two rows of windows in the upper storeys mark the bedrooms.

I see below me the red-roofed village of Down with its church spire covered with grey wooden shingles. The village of Down is built irregularly at cross roads, sheltered among tall elms, and only a meadow length away. I see that the lane on which I stand issues from the west side of the village, passes the pond and the blacksmith's shop, creeps along the hedge on one side of the meadow, and presently turns along another towards where I stand. Then, curving past Down House, the lane holds its way mainly in a southerly direction, until it is lost in the wooded hollows and ridges which form, some six miles away, the flank of the Kentish plateau. It is an easy step to the village from Down House.

The sounds which issued from its windows on this February morning would have told me, had I not already known it, that Down House had become a school for girls – a young ladies' seminary. Presently I was within the entrance hall, which passage-like runs from front to back of the house. I was introduced by a letter which Major Leonard Darwin had kindly given me. Near the far end of the hall one might turn to either the right or the left. The passage or corridor to the left passed behind the rooms I had surveyed from the outside; the first door on the left leads into Darwin's old study – where so much was accomplished – now a teacher's room, now a schoolroom. This left-hand corridor ends in the kitchen quarters. On its right side opens the roomy staircase leading to the bedroom floor above; beyond the staircase, between it and the kitchen, opens the door to the 'new' and spacious dining-room. Through that door in days gone by came and went Joseph Parslow, Darwin's butler, for forty years an integral part of the family; from within the dining-room one can almost catch an echo of a large and laughing family - one of the happiest in all England – an echo of sixty years ago.

Darwin's Study.

We have been standing in the far end of the hall looking to our left along the corridor of the house; near here in olden days stood the hall table with its jar of snuff. On our right open two doors, through either of which Darwin was wont to issue as he came to refresh himself from the jar. The first door leads into the study, the new study, with its fireplace in the wall opposite to the door. At each side are the recesses where Darwin had his shelves and loose folios; one can see where the easy chair stood between the far window and the fireplace, and the position of the flat table near the middle of the room, and the bookcase against the wall on the left.

Just beyond the study door opens that to the drawing-room – the new 'new' drawing-room – of goodly proportions and well lighted from the verandahed window looking out on the shrubberied lawn behind the house. Who has not felt a tugging at their heart-strings when reading of the evenings which Mrs. Darwin and her husband have spent here? There is only a partition between this room and the adjacent study where Darwin, more than any man, helped to free the human mind from the shackles of tradition.

Down House catches the afternoon sun, for it faces the south and west. Away in these directions lie the eighteen acres of lawn, garden, and paddock of which Charles Darwin was master for almost forty years – the scene of his many experimental triumphs.

 


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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