RECORD: Nash, Wallis. 1919. A lawyer's life on two continents. Boston: Richard G. Badger, the Gorham Press. [Darwin reminiscences only]
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CHARLES DARWIN-----A PERSONAL SKETCH
DURING ten years of our residence at Beckenham, the character of the place was radically changed. The inflow of city people—merchants, lawyers, engineers, architects, brokers, and so on— had caused the breaking up of the little farms and orchards, and of several old parks and demesnes, into building spots along the new roads. Very modern houses were everywhere built or in building. The train service was doubled. The delivery wagons of the London department stores and of London grocers and butchers were seen in the new streets, while the old-fashioned shops in the village lost what trade they had.
The atmosphere became distinctly suburban, and many of the earlier residents moved farther afield. In my rides about Bromley, Chislehurst, Keston, and even to Sevenoaks, I was on the lookout for a home in real country, still untouched. One of the villages, an old-world place of which I was very fond, was named Down. It consisted of one row of laborers' cottages, of two or three farm houses belonging to past generations, the old flint built church and the rectory, with a green churchyard in which a grand old yew .tree stood; a little general store, where the villagers got their necessaries and the school chil-
dren their toffee and candy; a gentlefolk's house at each end of the village stood in its own grounds, with ancient elm trees overhanging the road. These houses both stood back in their own gardens and lawns. I forgot the village pump, and two other substantial houses of the better class surrounded by their own gardens in the eastern end of the village near the pump. Now I have told it all.
As I rode through it one day I saw in front of the white house on the London road a board, advertising the place for sale. I inquired at the postoffice, and got the name of the owner and learned that the family had lived there for some years, and that much care and some money had been spent on the gardens and greenhouses, whence grapes and peaches and other forced fruit was regularly sent to the London market. Inquiring about other residents, I learned that Mr. Darwin lived tin the house at the far end of the village. Also that Mrs. Darwin's sister, Miss Wedgwood lived in the larger of the houses near the pump. All which was to me, and to my wife, so attractive that in a few weeks I became the owner of "The Rookery," and we soon moved in.
Mrs. Darwin was an early caller, with her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Frank Darwin, and acquaintance between the two families rapidly advanced, soon ripening into friendship which became closer during the next four years. More delightful neighbors we could not have found.
The village life was untouched, unchanged, by the great city seventeen miles away, whose presence was only shown by the reflection in the evening sky of its innumerable lamps. Several of the cottagers had never travelled in a railway train or trodden the
streets of London. Mrs. Darwin was the Lady Bountiful of the village community, caring for the sick and the poverty stricken ones, often sending to the weakly ones food from her own table.
For many years Mr. Darwin was the treasurer and manager of the village Friendly Society, taking charge of their little savings, keeping their accounts. I think he showed more simple pride in the successful balancing of the yearly statements of his poorer neighbors' provision against sickness and old age than in receiving some degree from a well-known foreign university. ,
Their house stood behind an ivy-covered wall, looking from the garden front over an English landscape of green fields, high hedge-rows, and ancient trees. At the left of the view was a small grass field, surrounded by a gravel walk, where it was Mr. Darwin's habit to take daily exercise when heavy rains muddied the neighboring roads. This field, and one belonging to a neighbor, were the scene of his observations on the work of the earth-worm in altering the face of the ground, and hiding deep, and still deeper, the one-time surface by the worm earth-casts.
This was his last book, but the observations were as careful, minute, prolonged, thoughtful as any on which rested his earlier fame. The same power of arranging and accumulating knowledge; the same insight into the causes of seemingly trivial results.
On the right of the entrance to the house was Mr. Darwin's study. A large writing table, a high-backed chair, another table with microscope, and, maybe, some other instrument. A potted plant, the object of experiments in progress for the time being. The walls were covered to the ceiling with well-worn
books, which overflowed into the passages and landings on the upper floor. Last, but not least, on the floor near the fire was "Sally's" comfortable basket. She was an old white bull terrier, an adept at the "expression of the emotions" in animals, who would, if she could, have told many a tale of the researches into dog nature of her kindly master. The books were, many of them, the records of the proceedings of zoological, geological and botanical societies, English and foreign, for many years. Once, I remember, we were plagued in our grape forcing house by an invasion of "mealy bug," coming one knew not whence, and immune to spraying, sulphuring, tobacco smoking, and all known gardening arts. I took a branch carrying a colony to. Mr. Darwin, telling him of our trouble. He studied it for a moment, and then turned to his son and collaborator, Frank, who was standing by. "Go1 upstairs," he said, "and on the third shelf from the top of the left-hand bookcase, about the middle of the shelf, you will find the journal for 18— of such a German entomological society. About page 357, on the right of the book and midway down, I think you will find the description of the insect and its life history." And there or thereabouts, we did find it.
In the garden behind the house was the greenhouse with a mixed collection of the plants familiar to the world. Their habits were studied, changed modes of growth in the face of natural and artificial obstacles —their insect friends and enemies—influences on growth of light and moisture, retarded or quickened life, self and cross fertilization, changes of color, form, flower; influences of chemistry on plant foods. On all such lines was research progressing. And the
infinite patience of it all, never hasting, never discouraged. Here are some of his own words : "Trol-lope, in one of his novels, gives as a maxim of constant use by a bricklayer, 'It's dogged as does it!' and I have often and often thought this is a motto for every scientific observer." And again, "As far as my experience goes, what one expects rarely happens." Yet again, "Investigation with very poor success, as usual; almost everything goes differently from what I anticipated."
The family life was the most genial, gentle, courteous, affectionate, I can imagine.
Mr. Darwin's eldest son, William, was a country banker. The second, Dr. Frank Darwin, was his father's constant assistant and co-worker. He was in later years professor of botany in the University of Cambridge, and famous on his own account for researches into plant life. The third son was George, .afterwa/rd Sir George. He was a distinguished mathematician, known widely for experiments and devices for weighing the moon among other achievements. A fourth son, Leonard, was an officer in the Royal Engineers. He became the instructor in photography of that celebrated corps. He was also an earnest student and inquirer in sociology, and wrote a book on "Municipal Enterprises," which was for some years a standard authority.
The youngest son, Horace, found his metier as a deviser and maker of the more delicate scientific instruments.
While this most unusual group of sons was growing up and taking their own places in the national life, but still making their father's home their own, it happened that I saw a good deal of the home life.
Never once, in the give and take of lively converse did I hear one word of self-assertion or provocation. If any statement was doubted, and was to be controverted or corrected, it was never denied or contradicted.' The formula in constant use was, "But, don't you think?"
The four years' voyage on the "Beagle," entailing on Mr. Darwin constant seasickness, left him weakly for life, and needing constant attention to regular and simple habits of life. He lived a life of self-restraint. So much work. So much exercise. Such food, and no other. So much recreation and diversion.
The epochs of his after life were the successive publications of his books. When once a book was in the publisher's hands it was Mrs. Darwin's habit to take her husband to the sea for holiday and rest.
The volume and variety of work got through, year by year, in face of such bodily weakness and self-restraint is simply amazing, and a lesson to all.
After the family's late dinner was over it was Mr. Darwin's habit to take a little rest, and then to join the family in the drawing room. Mrs. Darwin and several of the children were very fond of music, and the grand piano was in very frequent use. I have often watched Mr. Darwin sitting by, with an inquiring expression on his face, as a sonata of Mozart or Beethoven, or a nocturne of Chopin's was being played.
I remember well his saying, "When I was young and after we had been for some time married, I took great pleasure in hearing music, and I was a good listener. But by degrees, and as I became more and more absorbed in scientific observation, the taste
for music lessened and fell off. I really believe the musical department of my brain became atrophied from want of use. I have often lamented it since, but it has gone too far to recall now. Depend upon it, it's a great mistake to lose interest in any art or hobby by disuse."
Good authority, I think, for advice I have very often given, concerning music, especially, and, above all, to newly married girls. Have you given up hours of time and months of study until you have passed the rudiments and begun to learn the charm of your instrument, whatever it may be? Then persevere with it, even if occupations multiply and engagements press. Make it a feature of your life, and depend on it, future years will justify you, for music j will stay with you to bless you to the end.
It was a great pleasure to Mr. Darwin, in these later years, to receive an address, or epistle, in Hebrew from a learned Jewish Rabbi, in Posen, I think.
Being translated into English it proved to be a testimony from the writer that he had carefully examined Mr. Darwin's books, and had found there nothing to shake his faith in God, or in his revelation of himself to his chosen people. Nothing had he found hostile to religion or to its influence on human life. The rabbi went on to say that, on the other-hand, he could quote from those books the best evidences in support and explanation of the Mosaic record in the book Genesis. This incident led to an interesting conversation with Mr. Darwin on this subject. He was well aware of the storm of hostile criticism directed at him, and following the publication of "The Origin of Species," and "The Descent
of Man." He was accused of substituting the evolution or development of Man from a less highly organized form of life for the creation of Man by a divine edict, as recorded in the Bible, and this by the operation of natural causes working throughout the earth from far-distant ages. "But," he said, in effect, "I am but a searcher after facts-—a student of life in its origin and in its after history. It is not for me to attempt to reconcile the results of my observations with theology. It is for the theologians to do that."
I know of no passage in his books wherein he disputes the existence of an All Powerful and Eternal First Cause, by whom laws were framed and set in motion which have caused the universe and all that is therein; from whom came the soul of man, and to whom all men owe allegiance.
I have recalled a noble passage in one of his books wherein he upheld the grandeur of the idea of the preparation of the physical man through the ages of the dim past for the inbreathing into the developed being of that spirit that makes man Man.
I am aware that each and all of the deductions drawn by Mr. Darwin from the mass of his detailed observations has passed through the fire of both adverse and friendly criticism. Many minor points have received modification, scarcely any of his substantive teachings disavowal.
In after years, when, in a far-distant land, my mind has run back over the outlines of a friendship that I do, and shall, cherish as a possession for myself and a heritage for my children, my memory goes back to my first sight of this great man.
It was in one of my afternoon rides from our
Beckenham home, when no idea of leaving it had yet been entertained. I had crossed the corner of Kes-ton Common, and my horse was slowly walking, up the steep hill that leads into the Village of Down. The road is rough and narrow. An elderly man was walking slowly down. Seeing me he turned aside and stood as I moved along the road, with his back to me, studying the face of the chalk quarry in the hill, from which the road material of chalk and flints had been dug. The action was that of a shy and nervous man, and I looked curiously at him as I passed. I saw, in side view, a slender and somewhat bowed man, with a "drawn face," heavy white eyebrows and beard, under a soft black hat. He wore black clothes and a cape, with a gray plaid shawl wrapped round his shoulders. There was something ~ familiar in the general outline, and I wondered if I had met that man. Suddenly recognition came to me. It was the pictures of the author of the "Origin of Species" I had in mind, the original of which I had passed, looking at the chalk quarry on the road to Down.
I should like to add that we resolved to call one of our American-born sons "Darwin," and wrote to him from Oregon to that effect. We soon received from him a very warm and appreciative letter giving his assent. I understood, I think, from Frank Darwin, that such action was as near "Godfathering" as he ever went.
PART II LIFE IN THE NEW WORLD
Yaquina Bat, Oregon
A LAWYER'S LIFE ON TWO CONTINENTS
RICHARD G. BADGER
THE GORHAM PRESS
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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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