RECORD: Clark, J. W. and T. M. Hughes eds. 1890. The walking tour in North Wales. In The life and letters of the Reverend Adam Sedgwick. 1: 379-81.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by AEL Data, corrections by John van Wyhe 11.2005. RN1


[page] 379

For two or three weeks, at the commencement of this tour, Sedgwick was accompanied by Charles Darwin, then a young man of twenty-two. It is provoking that neither should have written down his impressions of the other at the time; for

[page] 380

it is evident that from this time forward Sedgwick took a keen interest in him. In 1835, while Darwin was absent on board The Beagle, Sedgwick wrote to Dr Butler of Shrewsbury: "His [Dr Darwin's] son is doing admirable work in South America, and has already sent home a collection above all price. It was the best thing in the world for him that he went out on the voyage of discovery. There was some risk of his turning out an idle man, but his character will be now fixed, and if God spares his life he will have a great name among the Naturalists of Europe1." In after life, though they differed widely, Sedgwick always spoke of his geological pupil, as he may be termed, with cordiality and kindness; and Darwin, replying to a note received from Sedgwick not very long before his death, could write: "I am pleased that you remember my attending you in your excursions in 1831. To me, it was a memorable event in my life: I felt it a great honour, and it stimulated me to work, and made me appreciate the noble science of geology." In 1875, in answer to an inquiry from Professor Hughes, Darwin wrote down all he could remember about the tour of 1831.

DOWN, BECKENHAM, KENT,

May 24, 1875.

My dear Sir,

I understand from my son that you wish to hear about my short geological tour with Professor Sedgwick in North Wales during the summer of 1831; but it is so long ago that I can tell you very little. As I desired to learn something about Geology, Professor Henslow asked Sedgwick to allow me to accompany him on his tour, and he assented to this in the readiest and kindest manner. He came to my father's house at Shrewsbury, and I remember how spirited and amusing his conversation was during the whole evening; but he talked so much about his health and uncomfortable feelings that my father, who was a doctor, thought that he was a confirmed hypochondriac.

We started next morning, and after a day or two he sent me across the country in a line parallel to his course, telling me to collect specimens of the rocks, and to note the stratification. In

1 To Dr S. Butler, 7 November; 1835.

[page] 381

the evening he discussed what I had seen; and this of course encouraged me greatly, and made me exceedingly proud; but I now suspect that it was done merely for the sake of teaching me, and not for anything of value which I could have told him. I remember one little incident. We left Conway early in the morning, and for the first two or three miles of our walk he was gloomy, and hardly spoke a word. He then suddenly burst forth: "I know that the d—d fellow never gave her the sixpence. I'll go back at once;" and turned round to return to Conway. I was amazed, for I never heard before, or since, anything like an oath from him. On inquiry I found that he was convinced that the waiter had not given to the chambermaid the sixpence which he had left for her. He had no reason whatever, excepting that he thought the waiter 'an ill-looking fellow.' On my hinting that he could hardly accuse a man of theft on such grounds, he consented to proceed, but for some time he grumbled and growled. At last his brow cleared, and we had a delightful day, and he was as energetic as on all former occasions in climbing the mountains. We spent nearly a whole day in Cwm Idwal examining the rocks carefully, as he was very desirous to find fossils.

I have often thought of this day as a good instance of how easy it is for any one to overlook new phenomena, however conspicuous they may be. The valley is glaciated in the plainest manner, the rocks being mammillated, deeply scored, with many perched boulders, and well-defined moraines; yet none of these phenomena were observed by Professor Sedgwick, nor of course by me. Nevertheless they are so plain, that, as I saw in 1842, the presence of a glacier filling the valley would have rendered the evidence less distinct1.

Shortly afterwards I left Professor Sedgwick, and struck across the country in another direction, and reported by letter what I saw. In his answer he discussed my ignorant remarks in his usual generous and frank manner. I am sorry to say that I can tell you nothing more about our little tour.

I find that I have kept only one letter from Professor Sedgwick, which he wrote after receiving a copy of my Origin of Species2. His judgement naturally does not seem to me quite a fair one, but I think that the letter is characteristic of the man, and you are at liberty to publish it if you should so desire.

Believe me, my dear Sir,
                        Yours sincerely,
                                                      CHARLES DARWIN.

1 These phenomena are described in a paper by Darwin in the Philosophical Magazine for 1842, xxi. 180. See Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, i. 57.

2 This letter, written in 1859, will appear when we come to speak of Sedgwick's attitude towards Darwin's great work. It has already been printed in Darwin's Life, ii. 247.


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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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