RECORD: Leighton, William Allport. c. 1886. [Recollections of Charles Darwin]. CUL-DAR112.B94-B98 (Darwin Online,

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

NOTE: William Allport Leighton (1805-1899) was a shoolfellow of Darwin's at Mr Case's school, Shrewsbury and later an Anglican clergyman and lichenologist.

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Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

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WA Leighton

Charles Darwin and I were school-fellows at the Revd. George Case's, Minister of the Unitarian Chapel in the High Street, Shrewsbury, at which the Darwin family then attended. He was a day-scholar, I a boarder. In figure he was bulky and heavy looking, and did not then manifest any particular powers of mind. He was reserved in manner, & we thought him proud inasmuch as he did not join in any play with the other boys but went directly home from school. I was his elder by some five years and according to the custom of the school that no boys should be dismissed until the whole school had said lessons, I was often deputed by Mr. Case to hear the younger boys their lessons. I can therefore say that his lessons were always carefully prepared & correctly said.

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No doubt his Mother attended to all this and made him prepare.

Though reserved in manner he was of a kind disposition and seemed pleased to do any little aids to gratify his fellows — one instance of which was his bringing plants from his Father's garden for our little garden, which was very pleasing to us. One day in particular I recollect he brought me a flower in bloom and told that his Mother had been teaching him, how by looking in the interior of a blossom he could ascertain the name of the plant. This greatly roused my attention & curiosity and I enquired of him repeatedly how this could be done. His reply was he could not remember. Doubtless his Mother had

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been giving him a lesson and explaining the Linnean system of Botany, but his mind has not sufficiently grasped the circumstances. This however excited in my own mind the latent germ of Botany — and the incident has remained in my memory throughout life. I left him at Mr. Case's school when I removed to Wolverhampton Free Grammar School and we never met until we went to Cambridge. Here we were pupils of Professor Henslow and attended his Botanical Lectures, and his weekly conversaziones & occasional herborizations. Darwin's manner was still reserved & proud — but it was patent to all that his mental and intellectual powers were greatly developed

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and he seemed to be pondering in his mind some great results. Profr Henslow was a good Botanist and Geologist, and a most patient instance answering every simple question with as much gravity and kindness as if it had been one of greatest importance. Thus his pupils were never discouraged but thoroughly confided in him, and made him their friend thro' life. Darwin hung upon the Professor's lips & words & no doubt he influenced him very much as to his Voyages and exploration in the Beagle. I remember that the Professor in the concluding remarks at the close of his course of lectures said he hoped his teaching had influenced many to perseverance — certainly he

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knew it had influenced one — no doubt he meant Darwin.

The bent of Darwin's mind was not towards classics or mathematics and he therefore did not attempt honours but took the ordinary [oi polloi] degree in which he was classed as 10th. He took his degree in 1832 one year before myself — and his latent influence and recollection of school days urged me to aim at a similar place. In this however I failed ranking only as 15th.

After his return from his voyage he called upon me whenever he visited Shrewsbury — and the last time I saw him he told me his attention had been directed to a quantity of

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Cynoglossum officinale (L) in a gravel pit near the town and he thought he detected differences from the normal state. I visited the spot but did not myself observe any difference. Probably this instance was one in which he detected Dimorphism. We corresponded occasionally on such subjects as cultivating strawberries in which I noticed (having then 116 sorts) that they resolved themselves into two series distinguished by the appressed or divergent hairs; — on the irritability of the flowers of Verbasum; on the two forms of Epilobium angustifolium; & on several other botanical matters & on Atavism. Many letters passed between us but I

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regret to say I have given away all except two to collectors of autographs at home & abroad. Of those I have I send you copies: —

[The text of the letters are available in the Correspondence and therefore not transcribed here .]

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

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