RECORD: Darwin, George Howard. [nd] Description of my father's ordinary habits during the latter years of his life. CUL-DAR112.B30-B35 (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed from the manuscript by Kees Rookmaaker 4.2009. RN1

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Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.


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Description of my father's ordinary habits during the latter years of his life

He used to get up at 6.30 or quarter to 7 all the year round & bathe his head with cold water. During the summer months he always placed a jug on the window-sill of his room at night, so that it might be thoroughly cold by morning. He always took a bath in the morning — cold I think in summer & warmed in winter. At quarter past seven he was down & then went out & took two turns round the sandwalk. By 7.30 he was generally at breakfast & I generally breakfasted with him or shortly afterwards. He had a little meal for breakfast, or an egg & tea. He was particularly attached to a very old cup, the last remaining one of an old set which had once been blue & gold. But as I remember it, the blue was partly worn off & blotched to a dirty brown & the gold nearly all gone. By quarter to 8 or 8 he was always at work. This continued until 9.30 or 9.45, when he came out to the drawing room. The post arrived about that time & he used to look at his letters & hear any letters of family news read aloud to him. Very often his own letters were read to him — generally if they were in a foreign language

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He often made comments as he opened them such as "Oh dear, here's this bothering fellow again", or "there's a letter from old Hooker" &c. He then used to sit and talk for a time, & then lie down on the sofa next to the piano, whilst my mother or sister read aloud to him some novel, history or book of travels. He often astonished us what trash he wd tolerate in the way of novels. The chief requisites were a pretty girl & a good ending.

At 10.30 he returned to work in the study. At 12 or 12.15 he used to come back to the drawingroom, my mother often sending me to fetch him if he seemed to be working too long. Then he would sit and talk for quarter of an hour or so, & afterwards start for his walk. During the last ten years it was almost invariable that on his way he would stop at the hot-house for 5 minutes or so to examine or perhaps fertilize some experimental plant, and give orders to the gardener on some point.

My mother or some of us often joined him in his walk & sometimes we started quite a large party. If he was unwell or if the weather was bad he always went to the sand-walk but in fine summer weather a favourite

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walk was to pace to & fro on the "Terrace-Walk", from which there was a charming rural view. Or we would go to Hang-grove wood, to Orchis bank, to Greenhill (another favourite) or down to the "Big-woods". He very often separated from the rest for the latter part of the walk because talking tired him, & indeed it was only during the last 8 or 9 years that he liked any companion. The walk was not long being about a mile, more or less. He generally at home again by 10 minutes to one, & found the second post was awaiting him. He opened the second set of letters before luncheon, which was at one o'clk. Luncheon was perhaps his principal meal in the day & it was in fact more an early dinner than luncheon. During the last year in fact he only had tea & an egg at the late dinner time.

After luncheon he lay on the sofa & looked through the newspapers. & I think had a short bit of novel read aloud to him. Then at 2.30 he went to write letters, generally by dictation to Frank. At 3 o'clk he went up to his bedroom & lay on the sofa & smoked a cigarette.

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Then my mother or sister read aloud to him for 20 minutes or half an hour, and during this reading he not infrequently fell asleep or half asleep. Two or even three books were generally left at hand one being always a novel & the others either travels or history.

At four oclock he went another walk, almost always in the Sandwalk and generally alone. At 4.30 he was at work again and worked until about six or sometimes sooner at which time he generally came to sit in the drawing room for a time. Towards 6 he again went upstairs and rested until 7.30, during this time there being another reading.

At 7.30 was dinner, at which as I said before he latterly only took tea or wine & water. About 8 he regularly played two games of backgammon with my mother. His keenness was amusing, & the strength of his comments on the game considerable, such as "confound the woman" when my mother threw sixes — of course it hardly necessary to say all such remarks were in finest good humour. After this he always read his scientific books till near nine. It was commonly German & he often appealed for translation in difficultly or important passages. I have translated a good deal of Italian to him from time to time in the evenings.

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At nine he would be on the sofa and listen to music if there was any or talk for a time, and then followed another reading aloud. About ten he retired to his study and about 10.30 went to bed. He suffered much from sleeplessness & bad nights. If there were guests in the house the reading aloud & the rest was generally taken in the study. But he used nearly always to come out at breakfast time about nine in the morning 7 sit in the dining room whilst the rest were at breakfast.

On fine summer afternoons he very often came out towards 5.30 & sit or stroll about in the garden for half an hour, or sit in the verandah with all of us at our five o'clock tea. He would then watch lawntennis & applaud or chaff the players.

When out for a holiday this routine was nearly followed except that the resting times were all prolonged as much as possible. At such times he liked to have some easy work, such as proof sheets, to occupy him. When there was nothing of the kind for him to do, he was rather

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ennuied from time to time. But he generally found some little bit of work to do, such as noting the peculiarities of some plant.

to get back to work
Railway journey


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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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