RECORD: Darwin, C. R. [1880-1882. [Letter to M. North and recollection of a visit to Down House]. In Symonds ed. 1894. Recollections of a happy life being the autobiography of Marianne North. New York: Macmillan, vol. 2: 87, 214-6.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed and corrected by John van Wyhe 3.2008, additions by Kees Rookmaaker 12.2010. RN3
First published in the 1892 edn p. 216. Calendar 13269a.
One day [in 1880], after arranging all this, I was asked by Mrs. Litchfield to come and meet her father, Charles Darwin, who wanted to see me, but could not climb my stairs. He was, in my eyes, the greatest man living, the most truthful, as well as the most unselfish and modest, always trying to give others rather than himself the credit of his own great thoughts and work. He seemed to have the power of bringing out other people's best points by mere contact with his own superiority. I was much flattered at his wishing to see me, and when he said he thought I ought not to attempt any representation of the vegetation of the world until I had seen and painted the Australian, which was so unlike that of any other country, I determined to take it as a royal command and to go at once. Mrs. Brooke persuaded me to return with her and the Rajah to Sarawak, and make a half-way rest there; so I joined her party on board the Sindh at Marseilles on the 18th of April 1880, and arrived at Singapore on the 15th of May, after an agreeable voyage in that most excellent French steamer in which I had once returned from Ceylon.
seeing my painting at Kensington. But it will be difficult to imitate, in a cramping glass-house in foggy London, the abundance of air, though hot, of those limestone mountains.
One bright summer day [in 1882] I went down to Bromley Common to see my father's dear old friend, George Norman, then in his ninety-fourth year. His hair and beard were of the purest white, and he looked almost transparently thin and delicate; but he wandered from room to room, and talked with vivacity and interest of all the leading politics of the day. He had a reader who came for some hours every day, and thus kept himself acquainted with every article worth reading in the different reviews and papers, as well as with all the best new books. He talked to me of Green's History of the English People, of John Symonds's Renaissance, and other tough books (which some younger men think hard reading), as if they were novels. He sang me his favourite old Norwegian songs, and told the old stones in the Sussex dialect he always told me, and which his children and I always pretended to hear for the first time. I think he and his dear wife (my best aunt, though no real relation), surrounded by their children and grandchildren in that old house and garden, formed the happiest picture I can think of.
They drove me on to Down, the dear old man sitting with his back to the horses with that old-fashioned courtesy towards women, which is now nearly forgotten. Kentish lanes are full of beauty, with their high tangled hedges and fine oak trees. We skirted Hayes Common, and that grand park with the Roman camp in it which old Mr. Brassey is said to have bought and then forgotten its possession for a whole year. When something reminded him of it, he said, "God bless my soul! I forgot all about it," went to see it, did not like it, and sold it again immediately. Down is about six miles from Bromley Common, a pretty village, and a most unpretentious old house with grass plot in front, and a gate upon the road. On the other side the rooms opened on a verandah covered
with creepers, under which Mr. Darwin used to walk up and down, wrapped in the great boatman's cloak John Collier has put in his portrait. He seldom went further for exercise, and hardly ever went away from home: all his heart was there and in his work. No man ever had a more perfect home, wife, and children; they loved his work as he did, and shared it with him. He and Mr. Norman had been friends for many years, and it was pretty to see the greater man pet his old neighbour and humour him; for with all his great spirit he was very much of a spoilt child, and proud of his age. Of Charles Darwin's age I never had the smallest idea. He seemed no older than his children, so full of fun and freshness. He sat on the grass under a shady tree, and talked deliciously on every subject to us all for hours together, or turned over and over again the collection of Australian paintings I brought down for him to see, showing in a few words how much more he knew about the subjects than any one else, myself included, though I had seen them and he had not.
Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Lushington were staying there. She had the good art of making others shine. Every one wished to interest her, and to bring out that wondrous smile and look of sympathy on her beautiful face, and I felt that we owed much of the interesting talk of that day to her tact and power of fascination. She also played in her own peculiar way, as if the things she played had been written for her alone by Bach or Handel, while Mr. Darwin rested on the sofa, and made her repeat them over and over, with an enjoyment which was real. When I left he insisted on packing my sketches and putting them even into the carriage with his own hands. He was seventy-four: old enough to be courteous too. Less than eight months after that he died, working till the last among his family, living always the same peaceful life in that quiet house, away from all the petty jealousies and disputes of lesser scientific men.
. . . . . .
[Here follows a short note from Mr. Darwin, written just after this visit, showing his appreciation of my sister's work. The plant referred to is Raoulia eximia, a native of the Middle Island of New Zealand, and allied to the Gnaphaliums. It is described on page 185.—EDITOR.]
2d August 1881.
DOWN, BECKENHAM, KENT.
MY DEAR MISS NORTH,—I am much obliged for the "Australian Sheep," which is very curious. If I had seen it from a yard's distance lying on a table, I would have wagered that it was a coral of the genus Porites.
I am so glad that I have seen your Australian pictures, and it was extremely kind of you to bring them here. To the present time I am often able to call up with considerable vividness scenes in various countries which I have seen, and it is no small pleasure; but my mind in this respect must be a mere barren waste compared with your mind.—I remain, dear Miss North, yours, truly obliged,
A HAPPY LIFE
BEING THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF
EDITED BY HER SISTER
MRS. JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS
IN TWO VOLUMES
MACMILLAN AND CO, AND LONDON
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