RECORD: Richter, Hans. 1882. [English translation of recollection of Darwin in 1881]. In Otto Zacharias, 1882. Charles R. Darwin und die cultur-historische Bedeutung seiner Theorie vom Ursprung der Arten: Ein Beitrag zur Darwin-Litteratur. Berlin: (n.p.), pp. 5-6. Translated for Darwin Online by Anders Hansson.

REVISION HISTORY: Translated from the German by Anders Hansson, with thanks to Adrian Bradbury. Text prepared and edited by John van Wyhe 5.2011. RN1

NOTE: This is an account of a visit by the pianist and conductor Hans Richter (1843-1916) with Darwin in 1881. The account was mentioned by Darwin's son Francis in Life and letters vol. 3, p. 223:

In this connection may be mentioned a visit (1881) from another distinguished German, Hans Richter. The occurrence is otherwise worthy of mention, inasmuch as it led to the publication, after my father's death, of Herr Richter's recollections of the visit. The sketch is simply and sympathetically written, and the author has succeeded in giving a true picture of my father as he lived at Down. It appeared in the Neue Tagblatt of Vienna, and was republished by Dr. O. Zacharias in his 'Charles R. Darwin,' Berlin, 1882.

The translation here is from Zacharias' book. A German printing that belonged to the Darwins from 1882 is available on Darwin Online here:

Richter, 1882. Hanns Richter bei Darwin. Signale für die musikalische Welt 4, No., 32 (May): 497-499. Image

[pages 5-6]

"It was at Pentecost last year (1881) when my friend Hermann Francke (Entrepreneur of the German Opera at the Drury Lane Theatre) and I followed up an invitation of Mr Darwin and repaired to Down. Francke is married to a niece of Darwin, her maiden name Wedgewood, and he is a welcome guest since the playing of music is much enjoyed at the Darwins'. I need not stress how pleased I was with the invitation. We, that is Francke, his wife and I, went early by express train to Kent-Down, which we reached in about 2 hours from London. A vehicle was already waiting there, which took us through charming countryside to the estate of Darwin. It is an ordinary, unremarkable English country house, one-storied, the usual front garden with all kinds of bushes and shady trees. On our arrival we were brought straight into the parlour; the door opened and I stood in front of Darwin, who sat in an armchair next to a fireplace where a small fire was burning. He stood up on our entrance, stretched out his hand and welcomed me warmly. What was my first impression? Indescribable. I have seen so many photographs and pictures of Darwin; however good they may be, one thing they do not reflect: the beauty of the eye, this beautiful Germanic eye with endless goodwill in it, full of kindness and gentleness. I was deeply moved. I then observed him little by little and realized that all the pictures depicted his facial expressions as too sinister; his face is fine and his head is not excessively large, as you might have thought. Rather his stature was larger than most people would imagine, and in his youth he must have been taller than what is considered normal. His forehead was extremely powerful and magnificently carved out, hair and beard completely white, the beard not as long and unkempt as in the pictures, in his cloth the perfect gentleman. The whole appearance was exceptionally dignified and at the same time comfortable, as if you had a rich lord in front of you, who – in order to live for his passions – had retired to the countryside. Against one wall of the Parlour stood a splendid Erard, and in front of it a music stand with a piece of music open on it. It was the Cello Sonata in A major by Beethoven. "Who plays the cello here?" I asked "None of us plays the cello" replied Darwin, "rather the bassoon, and that happens to be my son, who is in Strasbourg now". Mrs Darwin, still a beautiful and imposing woman, asked me to play something and provided the themes herself, first Mozart, then Haydn, Beethoven, and finally Wagner. I played excerpts from "Meistersingers", "Tristan" and "Lohengrin". After dinner we went into the garden. During the meal Darwin was very cheerful and talkative, and stressed all the time the deep respect he had for Germany and German work. He himself could not speak German, but he read and completely understood German works. With great pleasure Darwin showed me the magnificent large album which he had received for his seventieth birthday from about 400 German scholars, professors etc. He repeatedly expressed his delight about it. In Darwin's study and outside in the hallway there were many paintings from the life story of Christ, both the entire Stations of the Cross and other scenes from the New Testament, but only those involving Christ, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the Miraculous Draft of Fishes – I believe they were watercolours. I didn't see any busts. While Darwin had a doze, we went for a walk in the garden. Next to the dining room was a porch from where you stepped, without having to descend any stairs, straight into the garden. The first thing to catch your eye is a large lawn. Then there are beds with plants of various sorts and a large greenhouse. The garden turns into a deer park, an actual forest with lush meadows that stretch along a hillside in refreshing verdure. Once we had returned, we met Darwin in the dining room and on his request I played the piano again. He complained that he had been forced to suspend his work, the doctors gave him no peace, he must go to the sea, and he was completely inconsolable that he was not allowed to work there. On his farewell he promised to come to London this June, for a performance of "Meistersingers". Who of us would have thought when he gave this promise, still sprightly and cheerful, that he would be denied the chance to keep it?..."

This document has been accessed 1970 times

Return to homepage

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

File last updated 2 July, 2012