RECORD: Candolle, Alphonse de. 1882. [Recollection of Darwin]. In Bettany, G. T. 1887. Life of Charles Darwin. London: Walter Scott, pp. 148-150.

REVISION HISTORY: Text prepared by Kees Rookmaaker 11.2010. RN1

NOTE: The original French is in Candolle, Alphonse de. 1882. Darwin considéré au point de vue des causes de son suc­cès et de l'importance de ses travaux. Archives des Sciences Physiques et Naturelles (Geneva), 3rd ser., 7: 13-15. This recollection is reprinted in Thomas Glick, What about Darwin? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2010.


[pages 148-150]

I longed to converse once more with Darwin, whom I had seen in 1839, and with whom I kept up a most interesting correspondence. It was on a fine autumn morning in 1880 that I arrived at Orpington station, where my illustrious friend's break met me. I will not here speak of the kind reception given to me at Down, and of the pleasure I felt in chatting familiarly with Mr. and Mrs. Darwin and their son Francis. I note only that Darwin at seventy was more animated and appeared happier than when I had seen him forty-one years before. His eye was bright and his expression cheerful, whilst his photographs show rather the shape of his head, like that of an ancient philosopher. His varied, frank, gracious conversation, entirely that of a gentleman, reminded me of that of Oxford and Cambridge savants. The general tone was like his books, as is the case with sincere men, devoid of every trace of charlatanism. He expressed himself in English easily understood by a foreigner, more like that of Bulwer or Macaulay, than that of Dickens or Carlyle. I asked him for news of the committee, of which he was a member, for reforming English spelling, and when I said that moderate changes would be best received by the public, he laughingly said, 'As for myself, of course, I am for the most radical changes.' We were more in accord on another point, that a man of science, even up to advanced age, ought to take an interest in new ideas, and to accept them, if he finds them true. 'That was very strongly the opinion of my friend Lyell,' he said; 'but he pushed it so far as sometimes to yield to the first objection, and I was then obliged to defend him against himself.' Darwin had more firmness in his opinions, whether from temperament, or because he had published nothing without prolonged reflection.

Around the house no trace appeared to remain of the former labours of the owner. Darwin used simple means. He was not one who would have demanded to have palaces built in order to accommodate laboratories. I looked for the greenhouse in which such beautiful experiments on hybrid plants had been made. It contained only a vine. One thing struck me, although it is not rare in England, where animals are loved. A heifer and a colt were feeding close to us with the tranquillity which tells of good masters, and I heard the joyful barking of dogs. 'Truly,' I said to myself, 'the history of the variations of animals was written here, and observations must be going on, for Darwin is never idle.' I did not suspect that I was walking above the dwellings of those lowly beings called earthworms, the subject of his last work, in which Darwin showed once more how little causes in the long run produce great effects. He had been studying them for thirty years, but I did not know it.

Returning to the house, Darwin showed me his library, a large room on the ground floor, very convenient for a studious man; many books on the shelves; windows on two sides; a writing-table and another for apparatus for his experiments. Those on the movements of stems and roots were still in progress. The hours passed like minutes. I had to leave. Precious memories of that visit remain.

Alphonse de Candolle (1806-1893), Swiss botanist.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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