RECORD: Lane, Edward. 1882. [Recollection of Darwin] Letter read by Dr. B. W. Richardson, F.R.S. at his lecture on Chas. Darwin, F.R.S. in St. George's Hall, Langham Place, October 22nd, 1882. by Edward Lane, M.A., M.D. [n.p: n.p]
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed and corrected by John van Wyhe 8.2007. RN1
DR. B. W. RICHARDSON, F.R.S.
AT HIS LECTURE ON
CHAS. DARWIN, F.R.S.
ST. GEORGE'S HALL, LANGHAM PLACE,
October 22nd, 1882.
By EDWARD LANE, M.A., M.D.
4, Harley Street,
Cavendish Square, W.
Dear Dr. RICHARDSON,
In accordance with your request, I gladly send you a few reminiscences of the late Mr. DARWIN, derived from an intimate acquaintance with him during a period of several years. It was somewhere about the year 1856 that he first came to stay at my house as a patient, repeating his visits on many subsequent occasions, and remaining for considerable periods at a time, so that I had a good opportunity of noting the traits of his character as they presented themselves naturally from day to day.
Mr. DARWIN was at that time a great sufferer from dyspepsia of an aggravated character, brought on, as he always supposed, by the extreme sea-sickness he underwent in the course of his voyage round the world in H. M. S. "Beagle," to which expedition he had been appointed Naturalist. In the course of a long professional experience I have seen many cases of violent indigestion, in its many forms, and with the multiform tortures it entails, but I cannot recall any where the pain was so truly poignant as in his. When the worst attacks were on he seemed almost crushed with agony, the nervous system being severely shaken and the temporary depression resulting distressingly great. I mention this circumstance because it was then that I first perceived the wonderful sweetness and gentleness of his nature, his patience, and the gratitude with which he received the most ordinary services and tokens of sympathy. Great philosopher as he afterwards became, I have often thought that the philosophy evinced in those moments of acute suffering
was as wonderful in its way as the brighest feats of his splendid intellect. Of course such attacks as I have spoken of were only occasional—for no constitution could have borne up long under them in their acute phase—but he was never to the last wholly well—never robust,—and it was only by practising a regimen of severe self-denial, both physical and intellectual, that he was enabled, with the few hours in each day that he could give to active brain effort, to produce a body of works such, in quantity and quality, as he has bequeathed to the world.
Apart from his feeble health, and constantly in spite of it, Mr. DARWIN was one of the most sociable of men; and it may truly be said that he was the idol of every circle where he found himself. How indeed could it be otherwise, when he united in himself all the qualities that make a man admired and loved!
In a public institution like mine, he was surrounded of course by multifarious types of character, by persons of both sexes, mostly very different from himself—common-place people in short, as the majority are everywhere, but like to him at least in this, that they were fellow creatures and fellow patients. And never was anyone more genial, more considerate, more friendly, more altogether charming than he universally was. It seemed as though he could make himself as happy in the society of the youngest and least informed of the circle as of the more scholarly and old; and he would pour forth from his wonderfully stored mind and marvellous memory every kind of interesting matter, suiting himself with rare tact and taste to the capacity of his hearer. And while thus abundant, graphic, and interesting, he never aimed, as too often happens with good talkers, at monopolising the conversation. It was his pleasure rather to give and take, and he was as good a listener as a speaker. He never preached nor prosed, but his talk, whether grave or gay, (and it was each by turns) was full of
life and salt—racy, bright and animated. He dearly loved a joke, seeming to enjoy it to his heart's core, and though so kindly and charitable in his dealings with others, no man had a keener sense of the ridiculous, of the incongruities and absurdities in character, or could express himself, when in that vein, with more comical effect. Instances crowd upon me, but let one suffice, in passing, as a specimen. Speaking of a gentleman who was often loud and egotistical in conversation, "stiff in opinions, always in the wrong," he would exclaim, 'really, Mr.--------is a gentleman who always seems to me to hold the strongest opinions on the weakest grounds,' and he would himself laugh out, his countenance alight with a mock-mischievous expression that took you captive. But there never was any trace of verjuice, not a particle of ill nature, in such remarks, and he was as ready the next moment to shake the individual in question heartily by the hand as though the remark had neither been made nor deserved.
In the place and at the time to which I refer, systematic exercise was one of the great means relied on for the cure of chronic diseases, and it was in the course of the long country rambles thus necessitated, that DARWIN was seen at his very best. He was then literally "all eyes." Nothing escaped him. No object in nature, whether Flower, or Bird, or Insect of any kind, could avoid his loving recognition. He knew about them all—had in fact been observing every object in nature, great and small, all his life, and could give you endless information in his own graphic way about them, so that in one such walk you would gain more knowledge on many branches of Natural Science, if you were on the alert, than you could by weeks of study from books. And then a question of comparative Botany or Zoology would crop up and carry him back to his great voyage in the "Beagle," with countless anecdotes of all he saw of nature and of men in the course of it—the whole delivered as
I have already said, in a manner so full of point and pith and living interest, and so full of charm, that you could not but be supremely delighted, nor fail to feel, if you had sense, that you were enjoying a vast intellectual treat to be never forgotten and that these were indeed red-letter days in your calendar.
Although, as every one knows, DARWIN'S life was devoted chiefly to the study of the external world, and he was par excellence a man of science, yet few were better read and more widely informed "all round." He was a genuine lover of books of every kind, and in his leisure hours was especially fond of a good novel. And he loved the world of men as much as the world of nature and of books.
"Men my brothers, men the workers, ever working something new,
That which they have done but earnest, of the things that they shall do."
And none could more truthfully have adopted the motto
Homo sum; uihil humani a ine alienum puto. ['Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto' Latin meaning 'I am a human being, so nothing human is strange to me', Terentius, Heauton Timorumenos.]
In great matters, such as Religion and Politics, he was a Liberal without being an extremist or a fanatic; and in minor matters, he loved to hear in the retirement of his own quiet home, and strongly enjoyed, any anecdote concerning his contemporaries which reached him from the busy world outside, whether grave or humorous, so only that it was racy and had spirit. He was en rapport with everything of the kind, and let me repeat, from perfect knowledge, that over all his attributes and all his actions was shed the predominating spirit of a splendid charity in his dealings with his fellows—of a mental generosity without stint, and a sweetness of disposition I never saw equalled.
Such is my general recollection of the character of this wonderful man when I first knew him 25 years ago. A little later, and his name was on the lips of all thinking men in both hemispheres, while a war of angry opinion raged around it; and
a little later still, and he was elevated by common consent to the position of facile princeps [easily the first] among the scientific men of his own time, with the certainty that his fame must eventually take rank with those of the greatest of all time. But the modesty of the man was still the same. On one of the last occasions I had the pleasure of seeing him, he had come to London in the evening (a very rare occurrence with him), to hear a lecture by his friend, Dr. Burdon Sanderson, at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. He was not expected, and on his entering the Lecture Hall, the whole assembly, as it would seem by an electric impulse of sympathetic admiration, rose to their feet to welcome him—the Philosopher himself being apparently the only person unmoved, and scarcely conscious that such an outburst of applause could possibly be intended for himself!
In such a mould of unpretending greatness and genuine goodness was the spirit of CHARLES DARWIN cast. To the world, and to future generations of men, he must ever remain the great and distinguished Philosopher—the man to whom it was given, as in the case of his mighty fore-runner FRANCIS BACON, to propound a new organum, and live to see it firmly established; but I am persuaded that in the hearts of those who had the privilege of his friendship and who saw him laid to his rest a year ago among the illustrious dead in Westminster Abbey, his memory will ever live, not chiefly as the clarum et venerabile nomen [an illustrious and venerable name]—the world renowned man of science—but rather as the kind and faithful and encouraging friend; the true gentleman, in its widest and best sense; and as one of the sweetest and most benignant natures that ever graced the earth.
EDWARD LANE, M.A., M.D
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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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