RECORD: Herbert, John Maurice. 2.6.1882. [Recollections of Darwin at Cambridge]. CUL-DAR112.B57-B76 (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker, corrections by John van Wyhe 8.2007, 9.2008, corrections and edited by Peter Lucas 8.2009. RN4
NOTE: John Maurice Herbert (1808-1882) was a close friend of Charles Darwin's while students at Cambridge. Darwin nicknamed Herbert 'Cherbury', from Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Cherbury.
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Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.
by J M Herbert
I think it must have been in the spring of 1828 that I first met Darwin — either at my cousin Whitley's rooms in St. John's, or at the rooms of some other of his old Shrewsbury school-fellows, with many of whom I was on terms of great intimacy. But it certainly was in the summer of that year, that our acquaintance ripened into intimacy, when we happened to be together at Barmouth for the Long Vacation, reading with private Tutors; — he with Betterton of St. John's, his Classical and Mathematical
Tutor, and I with Yate of St. John's. Another of Betterton's pupils was J. Butler, Dr. Butler's son, who was one of my most intimate college friends — Darwin, Butler & I soon became a somewhat exclusive triumvirate, separate from the rest of the Cambridge party, taking our daily walk together among the hills behind Barmouth, or boating in the Mawddach Estuary or sailing to Sarn Badrig to land there at low water, or fly-fishing in the Corsygedol lakes. On these occasions Darwin entomologised most industriously, picking up creatures as
he walked along, & bagging everything which seemed worthy of being preserved, or of further examination. And very soon he armed me with a bottle of alcohol, in which I had to drop any beetle which struck me as not of a common kind. I performed this duty with some diligence in my constitutional walks; but alas! my powers of discrimination seldom enabled me to secure a prize — the usual result on his examining the contents of my bottle being an exclamation —"Well, old Cherbury" (the nickname
he gave me and by which he usually addressed me), "none of these will do." — On Saturdays we usually took longer excursions — as to the top of Cader Idris — Cwm Bychan — &c. all of which resulted in my being knocked up, & lame for a day or two, in consequence of my having a deformed ancle; & I remember one very long walk by Corsygedol, through Bwlch Ardudwy, & down the Camlan River across a boggy moor to Dolmelynllyn, or Rhaidr du Waterfall, where when we arrived I was so lame and dead-beat, that Darwin & Butler
had to support & almost carry me, the 6 miles we had further to go, before we arrived at our destination, Dollgelley. — There is a remarkable rocky hill rising abruptly from the valley of the Dysynni, called Craig Aderyn, or Birds' rock, which has swarms of Seabirds constantly frequenting its crags — Darwin went frequently there with his gun to secure any rare seabird he cd. meet with; & he told me that he used to sit in a natural "chair" on the edge of the cliff, where he shot any bird on wing below him, which he wished to secure, and the guide who was
at the foot of the cliff had to pick it up, & carry it home for preserving.
He had, I imagine, no natural turn for mathematics, for he gave up his mathematical reading before he had mastered the 1st part of Algebra having had a special quarrel with Sards and the Binormial Theorem. I think he then meditated taking some long sea voyage, at no distant time, for I remember when we were sailing one day in the Bay, on discussing the quantity of linen one should provide oneself with for a long voyage, like one to India, or the Antipodes — this conversation
was imprinted on my memory by the opinions which the 2 sailors who were with us volunteered as to the length of time a shirt might be comfortably worn without change, the one fixing the limit at a fortnight's, and the other at a month! It was about this time or it might have been after we got back to College, that we had our earnest conversation about going into Holy Orders; & I remember his asking me with reference to the question put by the Bishop in the Aduration service: "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the
Holy Spirit &c" whether I could answer in the affirmative—: & on my saying "I could not," he said "neither can I, & therefore I can not take orders." — He did not remain at Barmouth for the 12 weeks — the usual term of reading with a Tutor in the Long vacation; but he left us about the commencement of Partridge shooting, & for the shooting — for he was then a keen & zealous sportsman. But before he left Cambridge he told me that he had made up his mind not to shoot any more — that he had had 2 days shooting at his friend's — Mr. Owen of Woodhouse — — & that on the 2d day, when going
over some of the ground they had beaten on the day before, he picked up a bird not quite dead, but lingering from a shot it had received on the previous day — and that it had made & left such a painful impression on his mind, that he could not reconcile it to his conscience to continue to derive pleasure from a sport, which inflicted such cruel suffering. And I can recal another instance of his extreme sensibility to cruelty in the treatment of animals. When at Barmouth, he & I went to an exhibition of "learned Dogs" — In the middle of the entertainment
one of the dogs failed in performing the trick his master told him to do — on the man reproving, the dog put on the most piteous expressions, as if in fear of the whip. Darwin, seeing it, asked me to leave with him saying, "Come along, I can't stand this any longer; how those poor dogs must have been licked." These & other like proofs have left on my mind the conviction, that a more humane, or tender-hearted man never lived. But his feelings of compassion were not confined to the sufferings of the lower animals — With oppressed or suffering humanity
he had the deepest sympathy. And it stirred one's inmost depths of feeling to hear him descant upon & groan over the horrors of the slave-trade — or the cruelties to which the suffering Poles were subjected after their uprising at Warsaw.
In College I think we paid but slight attention to the prescribed curriculum of study; but he devoted himself to natural science in all its branches, and more especially to Entomology. He however regularly attended Henslow's & Sedgwick's Lectures and lived in terms of intimacy with the few naturalists then resident in
the University. But he always kept up the closest connection with the friends of his own standing; & at our frequent social gatherings — at breakfast, wine, or supper parties — he was ever one of the most cheerful, the most popular, & the most welcome.
He was very fond of riding, & he sometimes hunted, but he never boated, or played cricket. He had a great liking for first-class line engravings — especially for those of Raphael Morghen & Müller; & he spent hours in the Fitzwilliam Museum in looking over the prints in that collection. He had great enjoyment in, & a keen
relish for fine concerted music — both instrumental & choral, & we frequently went to King's College Chapel to hear the anthem in the Afternoon service. What gave him the greatest delight was some grand symphony or overture, of Mozart's or Beethoven's, with their full harmonies. For simple melody he cared little, and indeed he was so deficient in the power of distinguishing tune or remembering it, that he cd. not recognize "God save the King", or any of the most popular airs of the day when played to him on a flute — One of our Shropshire
friends, Eyton of Eyton, had the same defect, and I recollect once testing their comparative capabilities in this respect, by playing to them a number of common airs on my flute, & I could not determine which of them passed the worst examination.
After I took my degree in 1830, I continued to reside for the purpose of coaching pupils, & to read for my Fellowship Examination. Others who were intimate with us did the same — and eight of us formed ourselves into a Club for dining together once a week at our rooms in rotation. The members were Whitley, of St. John's, now Hon.y Canon
of Durham — Heaviside of Sidney, now Canon of Norwich — Lovett Cameron of Trinity — now Vicar of Shoreham — Blane of Trinity, who had a high post in the Crimean War — Watkins of Emmanuel, now Archdeacon of York — H. Lowe, now Sherbrooke, Lord Sherbrooke's eldest brother, of Trinity Hall, Darwin & myself. At our first meeting Cameron proposed that we should call ourselves the "Glutton Club" to show our contempt for another set of men who called themselves by a long Greek title, meaning — "fond of dainties;" but who falsified their claim to such a designation by their weekly practice of dining at some road-side inn, 6 miles from Cambridge,
on Mutton Chops, or Beans & Bacon. The name we adopted was in truth most dysphemistic, if I may use such a word; for we were none of us given to excess, but our little dinners were very recherchés & well-served; & we generally wound up the evening with a game of mild Vingt-&-un. —.
In the beginning of the October term of 1830, an incident occurred, which was attended with somewhat disagreable tho' ludicrous consequences to myself. Darwin asked me to take a long walk with him in the Fens, to search for some natural objects he was desirous of having. After a very
fatiguing day's work we dined together late in the evening, at his rooms in Xts. Coll:, and as soon as our dinner was over, we threw ourselves into easy chairs, & fell sound asleep. I was the first to awaken, about 3 in the morning, when having looked at my watch, & knowing the strict rule of St. John's, which required men in statu pupillari to come into college before midnight, I rushed homeward at the utmost speed, in fear of the consequences, but hoping that the Dean wd accept the excuse as sufficient, — when I told him the real facts. He, however, was inexorable, and refused to receive my explanations, or any evidence I cd. bring; and although during my
undergraduateship I had never been reported for coming late into College — now, when I was a hard-working B.A., and had 5 or 6 pupils, he sentenced me to confinement to the College Walls for the rest of the term. Darwin's indignation knew no bounds, and the stupid injustice & tyranny of the Dean raised not only a perfect ferment among my friends, but was the subject of expostulation from some of the leading members of the University.
I think I last saw Darwin at Cambridge, at the end of the long Vacation of 1831, when he came up to see Profr. Henslow with reference to his intended Voyage in the Beagle; and that he took leave of me then.
Whilst he was in S. America he
wrote to me once or twice, giving me an interesting account of his experiences. I have hunted carefully for these letters, but without success, or I wd forward them.
The above is all that my memory enables me to recal of his College life. It wd be idle for me to speak of his vast intellectual powers — which according to the verdict of all Europe have raised him to the foremost-place in the ranks of natural Science.
But I cannot end this cursory & rambling sketch without testifying — & I doubt not all his surviving college friends wd. concur with me — that he was the most genial,
warm-hearted, generous & affectionate of friends — that his sympathies were with all that was good & true, & that he had a cordial hatred for anything false, or vile, or cruel, or mean, or dishonourable. He was not only great — but pre-eminently good, & just, & loveable —
John Maurice Herbert
2 June 1882
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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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