RECORD: Dohrn, Anton. 1870. [Recollection of a visit to Darwin] "Memories," autobiographical notes, 1895-1909. In Gröben, Christine ed. 1982. Charles Darwin and Anton Dohrn, Correspondence. Naples: Macchiaroli, pp. 93-94.

REVISION HISTORY: Text prepared by Kees Rookmaaker 11.2010. RN1

NOTE: This recollection is reprinted in Thomas Glick, What about Darwin? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2010.

[pages 93-94]


I sent a telegram and received the most kind invitation to visit Darwin the following day, Monday September 26. One will understand that this day has left in me a long lasting impression, which it is truly superfluous to justify. At noon when I arrived at Down, Darwin was still out for a ride. Mrs. Darwin greeted me like an old acquaintance which made me believe that having had friendly relations with the Huxley family for several years, meant that for Darwin too I was no longer someone unknown. At half past 12 Darwin entered the room in the company of another gentleman whom he was accompanying to the door. He gave me his hand in a friendly manner and asked me to excuse his keeping me waiting. He returned at once, after having bidden farewell to the other gentleman and said smiling:

"You will think me respectable: this gentleman was our clergyman!"— indicating that he was not yet a complete outcast and still had friendly relations with individual clergymen. We then moved to his private room. I must confess, Darwin's personal appearance surprised me very much. I had expected to find a sick-looking man; instead I saw before me a tall, strong, grey bearded stature, full of life and cheerfulness and heart-winning amiability. As may easily be understood the conversation started with the immense historical events that had just taken place, and Darwin showed the greatest sympathy with the turn of events that had caused the fall of Napoleon III and had so very severely punished French haughtiness and frivolity. [...]

Darwin took the most vivid interest in my Neapolitan plans, looking forward to seeing the [Marine Biology] Station well equipped and then conversed with me about his own scientific works.

During this conversation I asked him, "Excuse me, if I ask a perhaps very stupid question: how do you begin your studies at all?"

"I'll tell you: I begin always with a priori solutions. If anything happens to impress me, I have hundreds of hypotheses before I know the facts. I apply one after the other, till I find the one that covers the whole ground. But I am exceedingly careful and slow in printing."

We talked for an hour and a half. Then Mrs. Darwin entered and took him with her, because he should never talk longer than that. After having rested for half an hour he returned. We went for lunch. After that I took leave, not without having to promise to return as soon as possible.

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