RECORD: Balfour, Arthur James. [c. 1870]. [Recollection of Darwin]. In Balfour. 1930. Chapters of Autobiography. London: Cassell, pp. 37-38.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by John van Wyhe 10-12.2010. RN1

NOTE: Part of this recollection is reprinted in Thomas Glick, What about Darwin? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University press 2010.

[pages 37-8]

It was to George Darwin that I owed my one brief glimpse of his illustrious father. George took me on a visit to their charming home near Down. My recollections of it are most pleasant, though too vague to bear particular repetition. The elder Darwins' kindness to young people was great; and for us even a story then current about the psychophysical effects of the hardships endured during his early travels, carried with it no terrors. It was alleged that during his famous voyage in the Beagle, perpetual tossing at sea had left behind a constitutional weakness which dry land could not wholly cure. It took the form (so ran the legend) of making him feel sick whenever he was bored.

Now if, as he believed (though his most ardent followers do not), acquired characteristics may be inherited, what a precious gift he might have transmitted to his descendants! Imagine having an excuse, at once truthful and conclusive, for terminating all interviews as soon as they began to be tiresome! Who, thus protected, would fear to face the world? He might inspire anxiety among his associates, but he need feel none himself. Whether there had ever been any foundation for this story I know not. Certainly I perceived no confirmation of it during my visit. The kindness of the great man, his sympathy and charm, exceeded all that could be demanded by the most self-centred guest, and left a deep impression on my youthful mind. I never saw him again; and little thought, as I took leave of my kindly hosts at Down, that it would someday fall to me to take a leading part in the proceedings by which Cambridge honored the birth-centenary of one of her greatest sons.

Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) English Prime Minister.

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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