RECORD: Stephen, L. 1906. [Recollection of Darwin and Emma Darwin]. In F. W. Maitland, Life and letters of Leslie Stephen, pp. 300-1, 445, 488-9.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 12.2019. RN1

NOTE: Several of his visits are recorded in Emma Darwin's diary (CUL-DAR242). There are also interesting anecdotes in Litchfield ed. 1904. Emma Darwin (F1552.2).

[page] 300

May 5, 1877.


Since I wrote to you last I have read Mr. Chauncey Wright's book, or nearly all, and - to say the truth-found it a tolerably tough morsel. (1)… Perhaps I am a little spoilt by article-writing and inclined to value smartness of style too highly. The only point which struck me unpleasantly in the substance of the book was his rather over contemptuous tone about Spencer and Lewes.

I don't doubt that his criticisms of Spencer are tolerably correct, though I can't see that Spencer really means to concede so much to the enemy as C. W. supposes; but I confess that Lewes seems to me to be a remarkably acute metaphysician, and one who will make his mark… Anyhow, Wright must be a great loss. Nobody can mistake the  soundness and toughness of his intellect, and his thorough honesty of purpose.

I had the pleasure the other day of showing the book to the great Darwin, who had already received a

copy from you. He was in town for a few days, and most kindly called upon me. You may believe that I was proud to welcome him, for of all eminent men that I have ever seen he is beyond comparison the most attractive to me. There is something almost pathetic in his simplicity and

1 'Philosophical Discussions,' by Chauncey Wright, New York, 1877. See 'Life and Letters of Charles Darwin,' iii. 144.

[page] 301

friendliness. I heard a story the other day about a young German admirer, whom Lubbock took to see him. He could not summon up courage to speak to the great man; but, when they came away, burst into tears. That is not my way; but I can sympathise to some extent with the enthusiastic Dutchman…

[Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908), Prof. History of Art Harvard. Also a close friend of the Darwins. His recollections of Darwin are in A627 and A 630. The young German admirer is Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), a biologist, physician and artist. His recollections of Darwin is in A625.] C.C.

[page] 445

Oct. 9, 1896.


[…] Old Mrs. Darwin, too, has just gone, who in former times received me kindly at Down – a calm, sweet and bright old lady, whom I liked because I had a special reverence for her husband…

[page] 488

From a note-book kept at the beside I extract a few remarks: 'My books, as you know, are mangy and worthless. I should sell them for what they would fetch, after picking out a few that may interest you. The one that I value most is Darwin's Life of his grandfather, bound up with a letter

[page] 489

from Darwin to me explaining why he gave it me. There is a volume of first editions of some of Pope's poems, worth about £20, I think, which I mention because the only one of any value.

There is a little collection of Deists, some rather scarce, but all valueless!' This true lover of books, I may observe, had not in him one spark of bibliolatry or bibliomania. His books,

if by 'books' be meant corporeal things, were, as he said, a 'mangy' lot, and he did not treat them tenderly. He drew pictures on fly-leaves, and the volumes that he had in use lay about on the floor around the rocking-chair. As to Darwin's gift, it had come to Stephen as an acknowledgment of a small service. The great man had sought some advice about a

matter of literary etiquette, and Stephen had been proud to do what he could. His reverence for Darwin was unbounded; it went near to hero worship; and it seems to me highly

characteristic; what attracts is 'the exquisitely simple and modest nature.' Yet more characteristic are what I take to be Stephen's last written words:

'Feb. 5, 1904, in bed, very tired most days, and dozing off when awake. I am not aware

of any important change lately, but I may, I suppose, continue this dreary kind of state a long time. Kind friends have come so steadily to talk and give me a pleasant hour or two in the afternoon that I must put down their names as I can remember them.' And so with a list—not a short list—of friends, Stephen at length ceased to 'scribble.' Some at least of the

friends who went to sit by his bedside, did not think that they were conferring a favour. They saw what was very beautiful;

Leslie Stephen with the evening light upon his face, gazing out into the sunset from the best, which is the highest, point of view.


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