RECORD: Innes, John Brodie. nd. [Recollections of Charles Darwin]. CUL-DAR112.B85-B92 (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker, corrections by John van Wyhe 8.2007. RN1

NOTE: Rev. John Brodie Innes (1817-1894) was Curate of Farnborough, Kent, 1842, Vicar of Downe 1846-1869 and a close personal friend of Darwin's for many years.

NOTE: 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.


Recollections of Rev J. Brodie Innes — Milton Brodie, Forres NB

My acquaintance with Mr Darwin commenced soon after he took up his residence at Downe, when I was Curate of the adjoining Parish of Farnborough. Becoming Vicar of Downe in 1846, we became friends, and so continued till his death. His conduct towards me and my family was one of unvarying kindness, and we repaid it by warm affection. The beauty of his character, charm of his manners, and heartiness of his friendship, were such as is most rarely met with, and, as a relation of mine who lived near him for a short time observed, no one could really know, and not love him.

In all Parish matters he was an active assistant; in matters connected with the Schools, Charities, and other business his liberal contribution was ever ready; and in the differences which at times occurred in that as in other Parishes, I was always sure of his support. He held that where there was no really important objection, his assistance should be given to the Clergyman, who ought to know the circumstances best and was chiefly responsible.

[86] 2

Having myself always endeavoured to be first a Churchman, it is impossible that such relations could have been maintained had Mr Darwin been anything approaching the opponent of religious truth which those supposed who did not know him, nor study his works, but took the deductions which others drew, and what others said, for his own utterances. —

We never attacked each other. Before I knew Mr Darwin I had adopted, and publicly expressed, the principle that the study of natural history, geology, and science in general, should be pursued without reference to the Bible. That the Book of Nature and Scripture came from the same Divine source, ran in parallel lines, and when properly understood would never cross. This principle was ably enunciated by Dr. Pusey recently in a sermon which I sent to Mr. Darwin.

His views on this subject were very much to the same effect from his side. Of course any conversations we may have had on purely religious subjects are as sacredly private now as in his life; but the quaint conclusion of one may be given. We had been speaking of the apparent contradiction of some supposed

[87] 3

discoveries with the Book of Genesis; he said, "you are" (it would have been more correct to say you ought to be) "a Theologian, I am a Naturalist, the lines are separate. I endeavour to discover facts without considering what is said in the Book of Genesis. I do not attack Moses, and I think Moses can take care of himself."

To the same effect he wrote more recently, "I cannot remember that I ever published a word directly against religion or the clergy; but if you were to read a little pamphlet which I received a couple of days ago by a clergyman, you would laugh, and admit that I had some excuse for bitterness. After abusing me for 2 or 3 pages in language sufficiently plain and emphatic to have satisfied any reasonable man, he sums up by saying that he has vainly searched the English language to find terms to express his contempt for me and all Darwinians."

In another letter, after I had left Downe, he writes, "We often differed, but you are one of those rare mortals from whom one can

[88] 4

differ and yet feel no shade of animosity, and that is a thing which I should feel very proud, if any one could say of me."

On my last visit to Downe, Mr Darwin said, at his dinner-table, "Brodie Innes and I have been fast friends for thirty years, and we never thoroughly agreed on any subject but once, and then we stared hard at each other, and thought "one of us must be very ill"

The calm temper in which he viewed bitter criticisms appears in his saying I should laugh at an abusive pamphlet. Another instance is this. At the time of the publication of the "Origin of Species" I was temporarily absent from Downe. An article on the subject appeared in the Quarterly, written by Wilberforce Bishop of Oxford, and since reprinted with other essays in a volume. Most men would have been annoyed by an article written with the Bishops accustomed vigour, a mixture of argument and ridicule. Mr. Darwin was writing

[89] 5

on some parish matter, and put a postscript — "If you have not seen the last Quarterly do get it; the Bishop of Oxford has made such capital fun of me and my Grandfather." By a curious coincidence, when I received the letter, I was staying in the same house with the Bishop, and showed it to him. He said, "I am very glad he takes it in that way, he is such a capital fellow."

Having been able to render him some small assistance, I was most forcibly struck with his extreme accuracy, and his determination not to accept anything as a fact until he had used every possible means to ascertain its truth, and every precaution against the least error. The work of years and the careful observation of pigeons, to discover whether the widely different kinds would revert to an original type when so repeatedly crossed as to become quite mongrels is one instance; and another is afforded in the study of bees and their work for which I placed mine at his disposal, and made observations under his direction. Much to

[90] 6

our own satisfaction, but to the annoyance of the bees, who were so offended at our constant interference that no one could go within sight of their hives without being attacked. In all these instances, when I thought I had made out a case, Mr Darwin would suggest some possible error, and have the experiment repeated, or new ones made. With respect to every fact stated it was quite certain that the greatest care possible had been taken by the most acute and painstaking of naturalists.

The theories deduced from those facts were the points on which we never agreed, and which he thoroughly realized that others might dissent from.

Allied to the extreme carefulness of observation was his most remarkable truthfulness in all matters. On one occasion, when a Parish meeting had been held on some disputed point of no great importance, I was surprised by a visit from Mr. Darwin at night. He came to say that, thinking over the debate, though what he had said was quite accurate, he thought I might have drawn an erroneous conclusion, and he would not sleep till he had explained it. I believe that if on any day some certain fact had come to his knowledge which contradicted his most

[91] 7

cherished theories, he would have placed the fact on record for publication before he slept. ['stop here' has been added by Francis Darwin for inclusion in Life and Letters]

It is marvellous that such an amount of work could have been done by one in such infirm health. Probably one result of continual sea sickness during the long surveying voyage in his early life was that he could not converse for more than half an hour at a time. Frequently he has stopped in the middle of a talk on his own subject with the remark, we must finish this another time, I begin to feel sick and must go and lie down.

As a part of the treatment prescribed by his physician, or by himself, was a walk of a certain distance daily, and to be sure it was accomplished he had a dry path round one of his shrubberies measured. So many turns made up the distance. At the commencement he took up the number of pebbles and dropped one at the end of each turn. When all were restored to the heap he returned to the house.

Another instance of methodical accuracy and resolution was shewn in the matter of snuff. It was desirable to restrict the

[92] 8

quantity to narrow limits, and accordingly he made, and strictly kept to, certain resolutions for a fixed time. For one half year the box was kept in cellar, and the key of the cellar in an attic, so that for the one pinch he had to go for the key, down to the box, and then restore the key in its place. Whether this involved too much treadmill, or too much wear of stair carpets, the next resolve was that he would only take a pinch when away from home. A most satisfactory arrangement for me, as I kept a box in my study to which there was access from the garden without summoning servants, and I had, more frequently than might have been otherwise the case, the privilege of a few minutes conversation with my dear friend—

This document has been accessed 12175 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 2 July, 2012