RECORD: Darwin, Francis. 1920. Recollections. In idem, Springtime and other essays. London: John Murray, pp. 51-69.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed and corrected by John van Wyhe 8.2007. RN1
"To entertain the lag-end of my life
With quiet hours."
—Henry IV., Pt. I.
I WAS born at Down on 16th August 1848: I was christened at Malvern—a fact in which I had a certain unaccountable pride. But now my only sensation is one of surprise at having been christened at all, and a wish that I had received some other name. I was never called Francis, and I disliked the usual abbreviation Frank, while Franky or Frankie seemed to me intolerable. I also considered it a hardship to have but one Christian name. Our parents began by giving two names to the elder children; but their inventive capacity gave way and the younger ones had each but one. It seemed, too, a singular fact that—as they afterwards confessed—they gave names which they did not especially like. Our godfathers and godmothers were usually uncles and aunts, but this tepid relationship was deprived of any conceivable interest by the fact that the uncles were usually represented by the parish clerk. This, of course, we only knew by rumour, but we realised that they gave no christening mugs—a line of conduct in which I now fully sympathise. My
brother Leonard did indeed receive a silver spoon from Mr Leonard Horner, but I fancy that this came to him on false pretences.
I have no idea at what age we began to go to church, but I have a general impression of unwillingly attending divine service for many boyish years. We had a large pew, lined with green baize, close beneath the clergyman's desk, and so near the clerk that we got the full flavour of his tremendous amens. I have a recollection of entertaining myself with the india-rubber threads out of my elastic-sided boots, and of gently tweaking them when stretched as miniature harp-strings. The only other diverting circumstance was the occurrence of book-fish (Lepisma ?) in the prayer books or among the baize cushions. I have not seen one for fifty years, and I may be wrong in believing that they were like minute sardines running on invisible wheels. In looking back on the service in Down church, I am astonished at the undoubted fact that whereas the congregation in general turned towards the altar in saying the Creed, we faced the other way and sternly looked into the eyes of the other churchgoers. We certainly were not brought up in Low Church or anti-papistical views, and it remains a mystery why we continued to do anything so unnecessary and uncomfortable.
I have a general impression of coming out of church cold and hungry, and of seeing the labourers standing about the porch in tall hats and green or purple smock-frocks. But the chief object of interest was Sir John Lubbock (the father of the late Lord
Avebury), of whom, for no particular reason, we stood in awe. He made it up to us by coming to church in a splendid fluffy beaver hat. My recollection is that we often went only to the afternoon service, which we preferred for its brevity. I have a clear recollection of our delight when, on rainy Sundays, we escaped church altogether.
A feature that distinguished Sunday from the rest of the week was our singular custom of having family prayers on that day only. When we were growing up we mildly struck at the ceremony, and my mother accordingly dropped it on finding that the servants took no especial interest in it.
On Sundays we wore our best jackets, but I think that, when church was over, we put on our usual tunics or blouses of surprising home-made fit. But I clearly remember climbing (in my Sunday clothes) a holly-tree on a damp Christmas Day, and meeting my father as I descended green from head to foot. I remember the occurrence because my father was justly annoyed, and this impressed the fact on me, since anything approaching anger was with him almost unknown.
In our blouses we might with impunity cover ourselves with the thick red clay of our country-side, and this we could always do by playing in a certain pit where we built clay forts, etc. We used also to run down the steep ploughed fields, our feet (grown with adhering clay to huge balls) swinging like pendulums and scattering showers of mud on all sides. Then we would come cheerfully home, entering by the back door and taking off our boots
as we sat on the kitchen stairs in semi-darkness and surrounded by pleasant culinary smells.
In later years, when we used to take long winter tramps along our flinty winding lanes, this unbooting on the back stairs was a prelude to eating oranges in the dining-room, a feast that took the place of five o'clock tea—not then invented.
In the early days of which I was speaking, we had schoolroom tea with our governess, while our parents dined in peace at about 6.30. We came down after our tea, rushing along the dark passage and descending the stairs with that rhythmic series of bangs peculiar to children. I do not know that we were really frightened at passing certain dark doorways, but I certainly remember enjoying a sort of sham terror. One of these doors led into my mother's room and also to a store-room; I cannot think that this had any "night fears" for us, because it smelt so strongly of such everyday earthly things as soap and tallow candles. Why it was placed next to the bedroom I do not know. I have no clear remembrance of what we did in the evenings, but I seem to see a round table and a moderator lamp, such as occurs in John Leech's pictures in Punch. I have also a faint recollection of black-coated uncles sitting by the fire and not unnaturally objecting to our making short-cuts across their legs. It was no doubt a pity that we were not reproved for our want of consideration for the elderly, and that, generally speaking, our manners were neglected. One of our grown-up cousins was reported to have called our midday dinner "a violent luncheon," and I do not
doubt that she was right. We were fortunate in having a set of simple, kindly, old-fashioned servants with whom we could be on friendly terms. Thus it happens that recollections cluster about the kitchen and pantry. I have a vague remembrance of a Welsh cook, Mrs Davis, who was very kind to us in spite of constant threats of "tying a dish-cloth to your tail," which, so far as I know, remained a threat, and was indeed never understood by me. We certainly could generally extract gingerbread and other good things from Daydy, as we called Mrs Davis. The butler, Parslow, was a kind friend to us all our lives. I do not remember being checked by him except in being turned out of the dining-room when he wanted to lay the table for luncheon, or being stopped in some game which threatened the polish of the sideboard, of which he spoke as though it were his private property. He had what may be called a baronial nature: he idealised everything about our modest household, and would draw a glass of beer for the postman with the air of a seneschal bestowing a cup of malvoisie on a troubadour. He would not, I think, have disgraced Charles Lamb's friend Captain Burney, who welcomed his guests in the grand manner to the simplest of feasts. It was good to see him on Christmas Day: with how great an air would he enter the breakfast-room and address us:—"Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you a happy Christmas, etc. etc." I am afraid he got but a sheepish response from us. Among the outdoor servants there were three whom I remember well. There was Brooks,
the general outdoor man, who acted as gardener, cowman, etc. He had dark eyes and a melancholy, morose face. Of him I have told elsewhere1 the following anecdote:—
Brooks had been accused by the other gardener of using foul language, and was hailed before my father to be judged. I, as a little boy, standing in the hall, heard my father say, "You know you are a very bad-tempered man." "Yes, sir" (in a tone of deep depression). "Then get out of the room—you ought to be ashamed of yourself." At this point I rushed upstairs in vague alarm and heard no more.
Brooks lived in a cottage close to the cow-yard, with his wife, in whom I took an interest because her name was Keziah, and because she was the best smocker in the village. I have a vague recollection of a private in the Guards to whom I was introduced as a son of Brooks—a statement I regarded as surprising. Mrs Brooks was as melancholy as her husband, and I remember many years later, when the pair were pensioned off in the village, hearing Brooks say in her presence, "She ain't no comfort to me, sir." To this she made no retort, though a tu quoque would have been most just.
The under-gardener, Lettington (the man who objected to being sworn at), was a kindly person and a great friend of mine. It was he who taught me to make whistles2 in the spring and helped me with my tame rabbits. He also showed me how to make brick-traps for small birds, and a more elaborate trap
1 Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, i., p. 138.
2 As described in Rustic Sounds, p. 2.
made of hazel twigs. In this last I remember catching a blackbird: I imagine that I must have been rather afraid of my captive, for the unfortunate bird escaped leaving its tail in my hands. I do not think I ever wanted to kill the few other birds caught in traps, but let them go free. I clearly remember looking with envy and admiration at Bewicke's woodcuts of traps, e.g. that of the woodcock springe, and another of a sieve propped up over grain sprinkled as bait.
To return to Lettington. It was he who helped my father in his experiments on the crossing of plants: he lived to a great age, dying as a pensioner many years later. My father used to tell with amusement how Lettington never failed to remind him of a bad prophecy:—"Yes, sir, but you said so-and-so would happen." The third outdoor man was Thomas Price, generally known as the Dormouse on account of his somnolent manner of working. We, as boys, believed him to be a deserter from the army on account of the military set of his shoulders, and because he had arrived in the village an unknown wanderer. He was a bachelor and spent more than was wise on beer. For the last few years of his life my mother made him save money by the simple process of retaining part of his wages in her own hands. In this way he unwillingly acquired some £20 or £30, but as he refused to leave it to those who took care of him in his last illness, it went to the Crown, to whom I hope it made up for the loss of T. Price's very doubtful military services.
In later years it occurred to us that the methods of gardening at Down were antiquated, and we persuaded our parents to engage an active young Scotchman whom I will call X, and who was placed in command of Lettington and the Dormouse (the gloomy Brooks having been pensioned). The two old servants were dreadfully bustled by X, and I well remember their flushed faces after the first morning's digging in the serious Scotch manner. After a time, finding that matters were very little looked after, X began some mysterious dealings in cows with a neighbouring farmer, and it was suddenly discovered that a cow had disappeared. I remember my shame at finding I did not know how many cows we ought to have, nor could I swear to their personal appearance. But by dint of cross-examination I was enabled to draw up a statement of how cow A had been sold, cow B bought, and cow C exchanged for cow D, etc. Finally the ingenious X was discharged, and the rejoicing Lettington and Dormouse reinstated. But before this fortunate conclusion, I had at my father's bidding taken steps to obtain a summons against X. I remember thinking what a fool I should look when cross-examined before the magistrates. Another circumstance is impressed on my mind. The affair occurred in that remarkable October in which the trees were greatly injured by a snowstorm, and as I drove in a dog-cart through Holwood Park in search of the summons, I thought, as the trees cracked like pistols, that it was hardly worth while being crushed to death for the sake
of any number of cows. Finally X was not prosecuted, and departed in peace.
To return to my childhood: I came between George and Leonard, and was a companion to both of them, but I do not think we made a trio as Leonard and Horace and I did more or less. I have a clear recollection of Leonard in a red fez, and bare legs covered with scratches, but I cannot distinctly call up images of the others. I seem to remember a great deal of purposeless wandering with my younger brothers; but with George, playing was an organised affair in which I was an obedient subordinate, as I have described in Rustic Sounds. Our chief game was playing at soldiers; we had toy guns to which home-made wooden bayonets were fixed, knapsacks, and I think shakos—whether we had any uniform coats I cannot remember. In the cloakroom under the stairs our names and heights were recorded, and George conscientiously constructed a short foot-rule so that our height should come to something like six feet. I had to keep sentry at the far end of the kitchen garden until released by a bugle-call. George being a sergeant was exempt from sentry work, and was merely responsible for the bugle-blowing. Indoors there was much playing with tin soldiers. I remember a regiment of dragoons whose coats my mother had laboriously reddened with sealing-wax to convert them into British soldiers. The troopers were in a ferocious charging attitude with swords raised, but the blades were mostly broken, and I innocently believed that they were all raising crusts of bread
to their mouths. Another indoors game was the hurling of darts at one another in the long passage upstairs; we had wooden shields on which the javelins used to strike briskly enough, since they were weighted with lead. On these occasions we were knights or men-at-arms, but out of doors we were savages. George could hurl hazel-spears, using the Australian throwing-stick, an art I never acquired, but I was fond of slinging stones. To make a sling a bit of leather was necessary, and this meant a visit to the village cobbler, Parker by name, who was a short, sallow man with the bristling chin which, according to Dickens,1 is the universal attribute of cobblers. I remember the pleasure of sending, with my sling, a pebble crashing into the big ash-tree in the field from what seemed to me a great distance.
Another pursuit was walking on stilts, of which we had two kinds; on the smaller ones even girls had been known to walk, but of the larger (which I remember as of imposing height) only the male sex was capable. The garden at Down was originally a bare and windy wilderness, but our parents constructed mounds of raw red clay on which laurel and box finally grew and made shelter. One of these mounds, covered with dwarf box-trees, was known to us as the Pyrenees, and our pleasure was to traverse the passes on stilts. There was a slight sense of danger and a certain romance in climbing the heights from the lawn and descending in what was legally a part of the orchard, where
1 Pickwick, chap. xliv.
the last of the limes grew and a particular crab-tree of which I was fond.
Then there were two swings, one of the orthodox kind between those twin yew-trees that gave a special character to the lawn, and one consisting of a long rope fixed high up on the tall Scotch fir that grew on the mound. The rope of the latter had a short cross-bar at its lower end which served as a seat or a handle. There were various tricks, some of which were almost sure to bump the head of a strange child against the tree trunk, to our private satisfaction.
A similar rope hanging from the ceiling of the long passage at the top of the house supplied a more complicated set of tricks, which all had special names. Of these, I remember that spangle meant a method of sitting on one side of the cross-bar at the end of the rope. The stairs leading to the second floor jutted out into the passage; we used to stand with one foot on each banister-supporting post and make it a starting-point for a swing on the rope, also a landing-place, and if we succeeded in getting back into position with a foot on each banister-post we were pleased with ourselves, especially if it was done at night without a light. The rope, working on the hooks fixed into the ceiling, made a grinding or squeaking noise which must have been annoying to guests, especially when mixed with much crashing and banging and shouting.
In later years we played stump cricket and lawn tennis, but in the early days of which I am thinking the only game I clearly remember was the practice
of the village cricketers in our field. It seems improbable, yet I am decidedly of opinion that the pitch was the footpath, the unmown condition of the grass making bowling elsewhere an impossibility; on the other hand it made fielding an easy affair. I remember clearly the runs being recorded by notches cut on a stick, a method of scoring which has its place in literature in the match between All Muggleton and Dingley Dell.1
It is curious to remember how solitary our life was. We had literally no boy-friends in the whole neighbourhood; there were plenty of boys within reach but we never amalgamated with them, and were, I imagine, despised by them as outside the pale of Eton-dom. No opportunity was made for us to learn to shoot; I used to wander with a gun and shoot an occasional hare and various blackbirds, but I never had even the meanest skill, and after suffering miseries of shame at one or two shooting-parties I am glad to think I gave it up.
Fishing there was none in our dry country, and it was only very much later, on the beautiful Dovey in North Wales, that I learned something of the art.
Riding we did learn in a casual, haphazard way, and some of us hunted a little with a mild pack (the Old Surrey) in our bad hunting country—but all this was much later and hardly concerns my present subject.
The best practice I had as a boy was riding
1 The "scorers were prepared to notch the runs" (Pickwick, chap. vii.).
twice or thrice a week (from perhaps my tenth to my twelfth year) to Mr Reed, Rector of Hayes, to be taught Latin and a little arithmetic. Our ponies were shaggy, obstinate little beasts, who had the strongest possible dislike of their duties. I remember well how my pony turned round and round, and at last consented to proceed till a new excuse occurred for a bolt towards home. It was a secret delight to me when one of my brothers was beaten in the pony-fight and was brought ignominiously home.
Mr Reed was the kindest of teachers, and after a short spell of Latin he used to give me a slice of cake and allow me to look at the wonderful pictures in an old Dutch Bible. Even under the mild discipline of this kindest of men I used to dissolve in tears over my work.
When I was twelve years old, i.e. in the summer of 1860, I went to the Grammar School at Clapham kept by Rev. Charles Pritchard. I was two years under Pritchard, and when he left1 I remained under his successor, Rev. Alfred Wrigley, until I went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, 1866. Wrigley had none of the force of Pritchard, nor had he, I fancy, his predecessor's gift of teaching. Mathematics formed a great part of our curriculum, and for these I had no turn. I am, however, grateful to Wrigley for having made me work out a great many logarithmic calculations which had to be shown up (as he expressed it) in a "neat, tabular
1 He was afterwards Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford: he died in 1893.
form." As I have said in my article on my brother George in Rustic Sounds, my "recollections of George at Clapham are coloured by an abiding gratitude for his kindly protection of me as a shrinking and very unhappy 'new boy' in 1860."
From school I went to Trinity College, Cambridge. I lodged first with a tailor called Daniells in Bridge Street, nearly opposite to the new chapel of St John's—the slow rise of which I used to watch from my windows. Afterwards I moved into rooms on the ground floor to the left of the New Court Gate that leads out into the Backs. Why the architect made the sitting-rooms look into the Court and all its mean stucco decorations I cannot imagine. My bedroom looked out on the Backs and its avenue of lime-trees, where the nightingales sang through the happy May nights.
I hardly made any permanent friends till my second year, when I had the good fortune to become intimate with Edmund Gurney and Charles Crawley, both of whom died early. Crawley was drowned in a boating accident in which he tried in vain to save the women of the party. Edward Stirling, an Australian, has only recently (1919) died. I am glad to think that my undergraduate friends (except those removed by death) are still my friends.
Among the Dons who were friendly to students of natural science the first place must be given to Alfred Newton, the Professor of Zoology, who most kindly invited us to come to his rooms in Magdalene any and every Sunday evening. There we smoked our pipes and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We
had the advantage of meeting older members of the University. It was in this way I became acquainted with G. R. Crotch, of St John's, who was an assistant in the University Library. He was a strikingly handsome man with a long silky beard and wonderful eyes. His passion was Entomology, and he had a great knowledge of the Coleoptera, and used sometimes to take me out beetle-catching, but I never became a collector. He was eccentric in his habits; for instance, he dressed entirely in black flannel—shirt, coat, and trousers—which were made for him by Brown, the tailor, who was a brother entomologist. He finally gave up his librarianship and went off beetle-catching to the United States, where he died in what would have been miserable conditions but for the tender care bestowed on him by a complete stranger, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. There, too, I occasionally saw Clifford, the well-known mathematician, who died early—also Kingsley on at least one occasion. I remember him, too, at the New Museums (where I was dissecting some beast or other) reproving me for my white shirt, and telling me that flannel was far more suitable for dissections. John Willis Clark (who afterwards became Registrary of the University) was then Curator of the New Museums, and encouraged me to work in his department, and I well remember my pride when my preparation of a hedgehog's inside was added to the Museum. J. W. Clark was the kindest of men, and I, like many another undergraduate, used to dine with him and his mother at Scrope
House. There some of us were introduced for the first time to good claret. I remember Mrs Clark (rather a masterful old lady) saying, "Drink your wine like a good boy and don't talk nonsense," as though these precepts contained the whole duty of undergraduate man. J. W. Clark was the patron and director of the undergraduates' Amateur Dramatic Society (the A. D. C), and occasionally took a part himself. I have a clear recollection of hearing him (attired in red tights) exclaim in his peculiar pronunciation, in which the letters l and r were indistinguishable, "I am the srave of the ramp."
I had left to the last the man whose kindness towards me as an undergraduate I valued most highly, and whose friendship it is still my good fortune to possess—I mean Henry Jackson, now Professor of Greek, but at that time a Trinity lecturer. I have an image of him walking up and down his room in Neville's Court with a pipe in his mouth (which burned more fiercely than did the pipes of other men), and talking with a humour and enthusiasm which were a perpetual delight. A literary venture, The Tatler in Cambridge, originated among undergraduates under the editorship of the present Canon Mason. To this I contributed a paper On the Melancholy of Bachelors, which was accepted, chiefly, I think, through the kindness of E. Gurney. I shall never forget my delight when, on the day of its publication, Henry Jackson came round to my rooms to tell me that he liked it.
I must now return to my more serious employ-
ments. It was at the suggestion of E. C. Stirling that I became a medical student and began to work for the Natural Sciences Tripos. In order to get more time for the last-named examination I kept my small stock of mathematics simmering as it were, and managed (without giving much time to the subject) to get a mathematical degree as fifth among the Junior Optimes in 1870. I had the pleasure of being coached for this examination by James Stuart—the only man, I imagine, who ever made mathematics entertaining and even amusing to an unmathematical pupil.
I then had a clear year in which I could devote myself to Natural Science. I did not succeed in finding a coach who was of any use to me. But in Comparative Anatomy I did a fair amount of undirected work: in this way I dissected a good many creatures such as slugs and snails and freshwater mussels, dragonflies, etc. I have a dim recollection of catching the mussels in the Cam with Gordon Wigan, the son of the celebrated actor—and indeed that kindly personage joined us in one of our boating expeditions.
On leaving Cambridge I went to St George's Hospital with the intention of becoming a practising physician. But happily for me the Fates willed otherwise. The late Dr Cavafy of St George's Hospital urged me to learn something of Histology, and sent me to Dr Klein, whose pupil I had the good fortune to become at the Brown Institute. I have elsewhere1 said something of my debt of gratitude to
1 Rustic Sounds, p. 92.
Dr Klein. Under his guidance I produced a paper which served as a thesis for my M.B. degree. I had another interesting experience during my time at St George's. I used to go to the Zoological Society's dissecting-room, where the late Dr Garrod (the Prosector) allowed me to investigate some of the daily quota of dead animals. But it was not of any real educational value, I fancy. Still it may have helped the impetus of Klein's teaching to suggest that medicine1 should be given up and that I should become the assistant to my father.
The old nursery at Down had been turned into a laboratory, and when (on the death of my wife) I came to live in the house of my parents, they converted the billiard-room into a sitting-room for me.
During the following years I went to work under Sachs at Wurzburg and afterwards under De Bary at Strassburg. Sachs was most kind and helpful, and under his direction I contributed a small paper to his Arbeiten. I made some good friends at Wurzburg—Stahl, who is now Professor of Botany at Jena; Kunkel, the Pharmacologist, who died young; the Finlander Elfving, who is now Professor of Botany at Helsingfors; and Goebel, now the well-known Professor of Botany at Munich. He and I walked side by side to receive our degrees at the 1909 meeting in Cambridge.2 I had the great
 During my life in London as a medical student I had the happiness of living with my uncle, Erasmus Darwin, one beloved under the name of Uncle Ras by all his nephews and nieces.
2 In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species.
pleasure of seeing Elfving on the same occasion, and we have never ceased to correspond, though at irregular intervals. I had once the satisfaction of receiving Stahl as my guest at Cambridge. He is still Professor of Botany at Jena, and in spite of rather weak health has published a mass of good work.
I am sorry to think that my relationship with Sachs came to an unhappy ending. I published what seemed to me a harmless paper, in which I criticised some of his researches. I wrote to him on the subject but received, no answer. Partly on account of his silence and partly to pay a visit to a friend, I travelled to Wurzburg. I found Sachs in the Botanic Garden; he seemed to wish to avoid me, but I went up to him and asked him why he was angry with me. He replied: "The reason is very simple; you know nothing of Botany and you dare to criticise a man like me." I had no opportunity of replying, for at that moment one of his co-professors addressed him, asking if he could spare a moment. "Very willingly, Herr Professor," said Sachs, and walked off without a word to me. And that was the last I saw of the great botanist. I was undoubtedly stupid, but I do not think he showed to advantage in the affair.
I continued to work with my father at Down, and in spite of the advantages I gained by seeing and sharing in the work of German laboratories, I now regret that so many months were spent away from him.
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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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