RECORD: Neville, Dorothy. [1875-1881]. [Recollection and letter of Darwin]. In Neville, Ralph ed. 1919. The life and letters of Lady Dorothy Nevill. London: Methuen, pp. 56-58.

REVISION HISTORY: Text prepared by Kees Rookmaaker and John van Wyhe 11.2010. RN1

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


[page] 56

[ca. 1875]

Orchids and insectivorous plants were her especial hobby, and so she got in touch with the author of the Origin of Species. Writing to a friend at the time she said, "Mr. Darwin has expressed a wish to see me — I dare hardly hope for such happiness." She was able to furnish the great naturalist with many specimens, which she liked to think were of use to him in his wonderful researches.

"I am sending" (she wrote to Lady Airle) "curious plants to experimentalize upon to Mr. Darwin. I am so pleased to help in any way the labours of such a man—it is quite an excitement for me in my quiet life, my intercourse with him—he promises to pay me a visit when in London. I am sure he will find I am the missing link between man and apes."

For years the great naturalist kept up an intermittent correspondence with my mother, who, however,

[page] 57

never could induce him to pay her a visit — he very rarely left his Kentish home at Down. His last letter was written with reference to affixing his signature to a curious little birthday-book which she kept.

Down, Beckenham, Kent (Railway Station, Orpington, S.E.R.), November 29, 1881.

Dear Lady Dorothy Nevill, I have had much pleasure in signing the little book. I rarely come to London, but on the two last occasions, I had hoped for the honour and pleasure of calling on you. Time and strength, however, failed me. I am glad that you have been at all interested by my book on earth-worms.

I beg leave to remain, Your Ladyship's, faithfully and obliged, Charles Darwin.

Though Darwin did not come to her, she went to him. Mrs. Darwin was rather perturbed before the visit, fearing that the extreme simplicity of life at Down would pall upon one used to the gaieties of country-house visiting. Before this visit, accordingly, she wrote to my mother saying that she understood that those who moved much in London society were accustomed to find their country-house visits enlivened by all sorts of sports and practical jokes — she had read that tossing people in blankets had become highly popular as a diversion. " I am afraid," her letter ended, " we should hardly be able to offer you anything of that sort."

[page] 58

At the time of the publication of the Origin of Species, my mother, unlike a number of her contemporaries who feared the book would shake people's faith in religion, remained quite unperturbed, and she became very much interested in the theory which was to have such a profound effect upon scientific thought. At the present day it is difficult to realize the stir caused when the theory of Evolution was first launched.

A great friend of hers wrote: "Keep me some hour when you come to London and let me see you and talk to you, and tell me about Darwin and the plants, and, if you can, do let me come some day and see them. It is long since I have seen your wonders, and I would like to come again. How far does Darwinianism enter into you—does it disturb your old beliefs or not? I think the mind of the real Naturalist is sometimes so bent upon each fact and each discovery as never to generalize, and so they manage to keep the two things separate in their mind."

Darwin himself used to tell a story of a pious professor who, ever seeking to reconcile biology with the Bible, accounted for the extinction of the mastodon by saying that the door of the ark had been made too small to admit it!

Lady Dorothy Nevill (1826-1913), English horticulturalist and hostess.


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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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