RECORD: Darwin, William. 1883. [Recollections of Charles Darwin]. CUL-DAR112.B3b--B3f (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed from the manuscript by John van Wyhe 11.2005; checked against the manuscript by Kees Rookmaaker 12.2005, corrections by van Wyhe 11.2011. RN3
NOTE: Only the recto of each page is numbered. A few fragments of this were used in Life and Letters (1887).
Editorial symbols used in the transcription:
[some text] 'some text' is an editorial insertion
[some text] 'some text' is the conjectured reading of an ambiguous word or passage
[some text] 'some text' is a description of a word or passage that cannot be transcribed
< > word(s) destroyed
<some text> 'some text' is a description of a destroyed word or passage
Text in small red font is a hyperlink or notes added by the editors.
Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.
Jany 4. 1883
My father was a thorough liberal by his position in politics; he never studied the subjects with attention, but never failed to read the newspaper with care.
He often used to speak with amusing contempt of the ignorance of science, and talk or "jawing" of the House of Commons. On many matters he had very strong opinions such as the mischief of a limited ownership in land; the necessity of a national system of education including science. — He took great interest in the conversion of Taunton's school in Southampton into a grade school to which I had taken the lead,
It would have given him the greatest satisfaction to have seen a minister for science, and I have heard him say how wise the united states were in supporting a state entomologist.
Primogeniture seemed to him unfair, and he was most indignant with many of the unfair wills that appeared from time to time, he would say using great energy that if he was lawgiver no will should be valid that was not published in the maker's life time; as this would prevent a great deal of the monstrous injustice and meanness that occurred in many wills.
He had the deepest respect and admiration for Gladstone, and always maintained that he was sincerely honest man. It pained and angered him much to hear him violently abused or accused of want of principle.
He was greatly delighted at the liberal victory of 1880. He wrote to me in April 6th "What splendid news about the election, I have not been so much pleased for years. I was glad to see that you succeeded at Southampton."
His respect for Gladstone was so great that he truly felt it a great honour when Sir J. Lubbock brought him to call during the year 1879 I fancy.
But the two subjects which moved my father perhaps more deeply than any others were cruelty to animals & slavery. His detestation of both was intense, and his indignation was overpowering in case of any being or want of feeling on these matters with respect to Governor Eyre's1 conduct in Jamaica he felt strongly that J.S. Mill was right in prosecuting him. I remember one evening at my uncle's we were talking on the subject, and as I happened to think it was too strong a measure to prosecute Governor Eyre for murder, I made some foolish remark about the prosecution spending the surplus of the fund in a dinner; my father turned on me almost with fury and told me if those were my feelings I had better go back to Southampton; the inhabitants having given a
1 In 1865, Edward John Eyre, Governor of Jamaica, brutally repressed a slave revolt there.
dinner to Gov. Eyre on his landing and with which I had nothing to do. (I remember that before this his feelings were so strong that my name having been by accident published as having been at the dinner. He thought it worth while in a letter to Lord Chancellor to say it was an error.)
Next morning at 7 o'clock or so my father came up to into my bedroom and sat on my bed and said that he had not been able to sleep from the thought that he had been so angry with me; he spoke in the most tender & gentle way. So I said that he had served me quite right for my stupid joke. After a few more kind words he left me.
I think it was a satisfaction to him to remember that he had always been strongly on the side of the North in the American war.
My father always urged us to keep accurate & classified accounts; and he always carried this out most conscientiously himself; the habit became fixed with him owning to the determination to save with which he began married life. His motive for the strictest economy for the first 25 years or so of his married life was that he was in no profession and never expected to make anything considerable by
his writings, and he felt very deeply the chance there was of his weak constitution being inherited by his children; he carried [on] his intention with most admirable persistency which he only relaxed in later life when he found that he was a richer man than he anticipated. The feeling that he was saving annually gave him great satisfaction, the object ultimately was to leave his children beyond want in case their health should give way.
In investing money he showed extreme caution, and would have nothing to do with anything new; he used to say that his father became so rich a man by never having lost a penny of his capital. On this subject he wrote to me as follows "I have lost only one investment of £500, and this was chiefly due to my believing that it would pay grandly. Consequently my fortune has gone on steadily increasing, while that of several of your relations has decreased, as they chose to take securities paying high interest. Trust to common sense and not to professional advise. "
When at Cambridge my father was very fond of art especially of engravings which he used to study at the Fitzwilliam. I have several engravings which he had in his rooms at Cambridge.
Though in later life he lost his interest in engravings and art in general, he had a keen eye for any defects especially anything unnatural. I remember his criticizing the engravings after Titian I have in the drawing room and saying that the [illeg] sleeves of the angels were bad being too much like steel from the folds being very angular. The engraving after Raphael of 3 figures under an arch which I have in the bedroom he often used to speak of with pleasure.
He used to point with scorn at the conventional way in which the head in a great many busts such as the one in the dining room was attached to the neck. Modern notions of decoration used to make him laugh, especially the wall colouring and "cow dung" green of the Morris style. He would exclaim how much more beautiful full pure colours were. I remember once here as a joke he collected together all the chimney ornaments or other little things, which he considered absurd or ugly, and he arranged them on a row in Sara's room on the chimney piece, and then roaring with laughter he asked to come & see the chamber of horrors.
Though he used to laugh at high art as affected nonsense and waste of money and time; it used to give him pleasure to lie on a sofa and generally scan and he often would say if looks pretty and it evidently gave him pleasure.
He would lie looking at the picture whatever it was at the foot of the sofa, at Down it was the [1 word illeg] and here the picture of Southampton water by Leslie.
A very strong characteristic was his deep respect for authority of all kinds and for the laws of nature. He could not endure the feeling of breaking any law of the most trivial kind, even the most harmless form of trespassing made him uncomfortable and he avoided it. He both felt and liked to show his respect for the position and title of others, and was very careful in addressing them in letter in the proper form; and I remember his writing to tell me to write to someone as My Dear Sir instead of using the name. This feeling partly explains his great respect for a title; but in addition to this he had an instinctive admiration for an old title and old family, and used laughingly to say how deeply he admired a lord.
As regards his respect for the laws of nature, it might be called reverence if not a religious feeling, no man
could feel more intensely the vastness and the inviolability of the laws of nature, and especially the helplessness of mankind, except so far as the laws were obeyed. He had almost a terror of any infringement however slight of the laws of health, & he would laugh at one as being illogical for such a remark as "just one glass of port", can do no harm. Though obeyance to the natural laws and an deep sense of the power of nature may be called in his case a religious feeling, he had no religious sentiment. I remember after Tyndall's Belfast Address my father told me that he asked Tyndall whether he really was conscious of the same sentiments towards nature as toward a divine power (I forget the exact word) My father told me with a smile that Tyndall turned and bowed and said something about the glory of sunsets &c. There was a vague poetic feeling in him. I remember his once saying either about the orchis book or the struggle in nature referred to at the end of the Origin that he almost felt that he could write poetry about it.
The most loveable trait was his wonderful sympathy with us all. Either in our careers or in little daily matters; it was a sympathy that I never saw approached. So spontaneous and simple and delightful.
As a proof that my father did think of political matters I may mention some years ago when there was a good deal of abuse of the "caucus" in the newspaper. I remember his maintaining that it was only carrying out the old system of choosing your representative at a small private meeting of those interested in politics on a more systematical and better plan.
My father had very strong feelings against what he felt to be the almost wicked folly of the anti vaccination agitation; he also felt, in spite of his abhorrence of all cruelty, very deeply the injury the antivivisectionists were doing to the advance of knowledge which would tend vastly to alleviate suffering.
Return to homepage
Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
File last updated 2 July, 2012