RECORD: Forster, Laura May. 1885.11.16. [Recollections of Darwin.] CUL-DAR112.A38-A47 (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker 8.2008. RN1
NOTE: Editorial symbols used in the transcription:
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Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.
[in another handwriting] Miss L.M. Forster
[printed letterhead] West Hackhurst, Dorking (Comshall Station, S.C.R.)
My dear Frank
I am deep in your father's autobiography again, and feel more & more how wonderfully he stands out in it, & how very little can be added from the outside to such a vivid picture.
Long ago when at Grasse I began to write some of my recollections of him to my friend Wm. Jebb. I was interrupted by having to attend to sick
people, and never went on, it seemed to me so colourless. Still I did not burn my letter & I came on it the other day and thought perhaps you would like to have it.
Your father now chiefly comes before my mind as he was during the month I spent at Down so shortly before the end came. Dr. A. Clarke had told me before I came from town that he was very delicate and excitable, and he feared that I was not enough recovered from my long illness for my visit to be safe for him. I begged him
to settle it with Hall, as I was too weak to talk much. It was decided I should be sent to Down, and till I got turns I did not realise how much he was changed in strength. Some of the days were sadly wearing for him. I remember his coming into the drawing room one afternoon & saying "the clocks go so dreadfully slowly, I have come in here to see if this one get over the hours any quicker than the standing one does." & then as he lay down on the sofa he said regretfully "also my dear laura, how terribly slowly the time must have been going for you all these months." He
used very often to come into the old study, where I had my meals, and out thro' the end of any luncheon with me I perceived one day his being disturbed because I was drinking claret instead of champagne and on my saying I liked it for a change, he said "Now it is all right if you really like it best, but I cant imagine anyone who is ordered champagne preferring claret. I dont offer you anything my dear Laura because in this house you are to be treated like the Queen of England, every thing in it is at your command, and anything
out of it shall be sent for the moment you ask for it. So mind you do ask for exactly what you want and I shall be easy about you."
I specially remember him another time when he looked in after dinner on his way to the drawing room. Dubba had been waiting on me at dinner, pouring out my champagne & soda water was great fun to him, & he helped me to salt & the organ and made a great fuss about being like a real butler, & that evening he
had put on a wooden sword hoping to increase his likeness with his dignity. The door opened & your mother came in just as he had proposed improving some dates by squeezing lemon over them, which he said (as butler) he must get on any lass to do! There had to be a compromise & he was 1/2 on the arm of the chair and 1/2 on me when I heard your father exclaim, "the little duck", & looking up I saw him standing in the corner by the door leaning against the wall & with his [alfser] stood in front, looking with
inexpressible tenderness & delight at the boy. Bernard's flushed cheeks & excited actions & ceaseless talk showing how much he enjoyed his part of butler. Later when Bernard was gone to bed and I went into the drawing room your father looked up as I came in, & said as if in continuance of his thoughts, "Well Laura you do make that boy happy. I would almost envy you." Another scene that was very characteristic of him happened also in the old study just at the time of Leo's engagement. There was a letter which needed an immediate answer & your
mother came into the study wanting to write a few words to catch the post before she got enticed into the after luncheon talk. But she had not sat down 2 minutes before Bessie came in asking about Leo's letter & then your father, saying "I am the most ill used man in the world. There's been a letter from Leo in the house 1/2 an hour & I have not heard a single word of it." I condoled & said neither Bessie nor I had heard a word either, & then I think it was that your mother said from the writing table, "If you
go on chattering so I shant get my letter done." Your father made a face as if of alarm, surprise at so sharp a rebuke from your mother, & we all sat dead silent for at least a minute. The silence was broken by your mother's saying "Ring the bell Bessie" on wh. your father added "Look sharp Bessie. Mother isn't the sooner to be trifled with when she speaks in that tone, I can tell you." which made your mother
laugh so she could hardly begin the letter we were waiting to have read to us.
That was one of your father's better days, he varied a good deal. Some days but only one or at most two I think, he did not come downstairs, and that was during the earlier part of my visit. I remember one day was the 1st time that I was able to walk at all, I left the verandah & walked once or twice up and down the path to the dining room window. Your
father happened to come to his bedroom window above the dining room and saw me, & he opened the window at once, & leaned out of it to say, "that is right dear Laura, it does me good to see you walking about again." I was pleased to see that thou' a bad day he had vigour eno' to yield to his impulse of opening the window so readily. That was just after Dr. A. Clarke's visit I think, & he rallied a good deal afterwards. I remember his joining us the 1st time. I got as far as the orchard,
chairs had been put at easy distances for me, & the farther was just at the entrance of the orchard, & your mother was sitting on a bench on low chair opposite me when your father joined us & sat down too. I remember feeling sorry he had not my high chair, but he said he did not mind a low seat now and then for a short time. We talked about the alterations & the new tennis ground &c. I do not remember any special word but it was the scene that felt more like a return to health in him than any other during my visit, so it remains on my mind as a happy remembrance.
[Printed letterhead] West Hackhurst, Dorking (Comshall Station, S.C.R.)
My very last recollections seems to sum up all my intercourse with him — all the gentle cocatery with which he met me the first time I came to Down, and all the warm affection that the later years brought. The journey was rather an event as the first after a severe illness, & there had been doubts about whether the day was too cold for me to travel. But it was settled I might if I considered going out at the front door, so the carriage
was in a sheltered place by the back door. I put on my things in the smoking room, but I would not come out till I was told the carriage was ready, thinking that last words would be tiring to your father and that I had better only just have time to say goodbye. I never shall forget opening the study door & the thrill of arrows of pleasure it was to see my care had been in vain. He was standing propped by his Alpenstock in a corner nearby
opposite the door watching for me to come out & the expression of patient weariness as I opened the door, brightening into affectionate interest as he came to meet me, will never be forgotten. He took me to the carriage and our last goodbye was said.
There is our [illeg], difficult to tell because so personal, and yet I feel it belonged to such a large thing in your father's character, it should find a place if it could find a form personal to him.
alone. The first time I came to Down after Horace's engagement he expressed himself most fully about the use & comfort I had been for the last few months. I remember his saying "I don't know how we could have lived thro' it but for you, it was such a terrible time. You Laura are one of the real benefactors of the human race." I felt overwhelmed for the moment by his approbation tho' I need not say it was and is a ceaseless delight to me. But I made some feeble
attempt to make light on the surface of what I felt deeply, & I remember the sense of a gentle rebuke in your father's serious tone as he went on, "no Laura I mean what I say, one who can do for others what you have done for us is the real benefactor of mankind, nothing else really matters in comparison." I felt he was expressing a deep religious feeling, far
wider than the occasion which happened to call it out.
I fear I have written little if anything that can be of general use, I have only been carried on by feeling you will like to read anything about him. If you like later for me to curtail and combine these disjointed letters I think I might do it in two or three weeks time. But I should like you to
read them as they are, & I should see them better for the outside after an interval.
Yours most sincerely,
L. M. Forster
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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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