RECORD: Simon, John. 1882.04.29. Letter to Sara Darwin née Sedgwick. CUL-DAR215.9b. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 11.2021. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Darwin Online manuscript catalogue, enter its Identifier here. Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.

"Simon, Sir John, 1816-1904. Surgeon and pathologist. Medical Officer to Privy Council. 1845 FRS. 1875 CD to Hooker; S saw and agreed to Litchfield's draft sketch for a vivisection bill. CCD23. 1879-80 PRS. 1881 CD to Romanes praising his address on vivisection to International Medical Congress. LL3:210.
Sedgwick, Sarah Price Ashburner, 1839-1902. Of Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Sister of Theodora S. CD's daughter-in-law. Friend of Chauncey Wright. LL3:165. Letters of Chauncey Wright, pp. 246-8. "She was the kindest of the kind but a little formidable...Sedgwicks, Eliots and Nortons are not to be lightly encountered". B. Darwin, Green memories, 1928, p. 42. 1877 Nov. 29 Married William Erasmus Darwin. ED wrote often to S with the last letter perhaps 1896 Sept. 19." (Paul van Helvert & John van Wyhe, Darwin: A Companion, 2021)
"Mr or Mrs Lichfield" refers to Richard Buckley Litchfield (1832-1903) and Henrietta Emma Darwin Litchfield (1843-1927).


To Mrs W. E. Darwin

40 Kensington Square, W.

Saturday, April 29th, 1882.

My dear Sara,

Our return-journey from Edinbro ended here only last night; and now when I have my first opportunity of writing you the few lines which I have been wishing from eight days ago to write, I must begin by thanking you for so very kindly thinking of me in the midst of your great sorrow. Your note reached me at Wakefield on Wednesday morning, forwarded from Kensington; but on the Tuesday a telegram which Mr or Mrs Lichfield had been so good as to address to me at Wakefield (and for which pray give them my best thanks) had reached me; and the answer which I telegraphed to then, crossing your letter in its circuitous route, will have also served provisionally as an answer to you. The


circumstances – partly of fixed engagement which I had at Wakefield (involving other persons) and partly of personal inability to make increased speed – (for unluckily I have been very unwell)- made it impossible for me to reach London in time for the funeral: an impossibility which was matter of extreme regret to me, for except at my own father's interment, I doubt if ever there has been one at which I would more truly have desired to kneel.

It would be absurd of me to pretend to add any words of homage of mine to those which all the educated world is speaking of grateful reverence for Mr. Darwin's memory. Close by where they have laid him, the inscription which is over Newton's grave has some words which now again may be fitly applied, - "Let men rejoice that there has shone so great a splendor from among their race"; and those who knelt there, thinking of their own immense obligations to Mr. Darwin's consummate noble intelligence and truth-lovingness, can hardly not have mixed in their church-service-words the emphatic "Render thanks to the Giver" which Tennyson utters on a like occasion. Truly, in the system of nature, which Mr. Darwin above all men has helped us to understand, a life, such as his own, is the divinest gift. And if one's heart is to be moved with gratitude and awe as one looks at the beautiful and wonderful things of the physical or the semi-animate world – at sky, at forests, at geological periods and the like; can it be less so when one contemplates the higher reaches of physical possibility, intellectual capacity almost beyond compare, and motived by simple love of truth; not only without any trace of the too common earthy alloys which come from egotism, but, on the contrary, incorporated with such sweetness of nature as in truth is a genius of itself – a moral one to match the intellectual. I cannot sufficiently say how much of influence ought I think to come from such an example.

To you all at Down, the immense grief of having lost one so dearly loved as well as honoured, and of missing the habitual intercourse which it has been an inestimable privilege to enjoy, is a pain which perhaps hitherto can hardly be lightened by any sort


of réflexion. Yet, if ever the rightly constituted human mind can (as against death) take comfort out of réflexion, surely, here is the case where such ought to be taken. For the life which it was your happiness to witness did it utmost measure of duty, and will be a power in men's minds for ever. And the surrounds of that illustrious life were so singularly happy that all of you may be glad to think of them, and, not least, to know how, in that sense, you all contributed to his work. How different might have been the issue if he had not had his tranquil and happy home or wife, sons, daughters, all devoted to him, some actually joining in his work, all such as must have made him a proud and happy patriarch. Above all, with his frail health, how small a part of his life's labor could have been accomplished, unless the wife had been ever at his side, not only sympathising in all his aspirations, but equally ever watchful in her care for him. May it be some help to her, even in the extremity of her sorrow, to remember how essential in part of his life she has been, and to feel aware of the very deep respect and sympathy with which all who have ever been at Down must think of her. I have written a much longer note than I intended, but it is from my heart, and you will excuse it. I shall ask you to tell me sometimes how they go on. And I shall like to know also yourself and your husband. Meanwhile dear Sara, with much love, always faithfully yours, John Simon.

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