RECORD: Darwin C. R. 1972. [Letter to Lawrence Ruck and reminiscences of Darwin]. In Berta Ruck, Ancestral voices. London, pp. 223-6; 228-9. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 4.2022. RN1

NOTE:"Ruck, Lawrence, 1819-96. Of Pantlludw, near Machynlleth, Wales. Father of Mary Elizabeth and Amy Richenda. Magdalen College, Oxford. Married Mary Anne Matthews. The 3 sons who were at Clapham Grammar School with CD's sons were: 1 Col. Arthur Ashley (1847-1939), father of Amy Roberta; 2 Sir Richard Matthews (1851-1935); 3 Laurence Ethel, (1854-88), died young." (Paul van Helvert & John van Wyhe, Darwin: A Companion, 2021)

[page] 223

Also, there were plenty of other things to talk about with dear old Mr. Darwin—Why, he was a friend! A family-friend who had stayed at Pantlludw, as had his sister. His sons had been at school, and had made great friends with the Ruck boys, Especially Frank, with dear Arthur-'

'Berta! Aren't you going to put in that story about Mr. Darwin and Father's waistcoat?'

[page] [224]

42 Mr. Darwin Doubted It

Father was quite young at the time when he was summoned to Down, Kentish home of the Darwins, to settle an argument for three learned men.'

"Atty (Arthur) Ruck,' the Darwin sons had said, "was able to get out of his waistcoat without undoing a button of his jacket.' Mr. Darwin doubted it. He kept, to the end of his famous career of discoveries, an open mind; his summing up was We know so little. To the last he kept his eyes and his mind open about most things. . . A snake can shuffle out of it's skin. But a tall and broad-shouldered young man— He doubted that story. So did his visiting friend Mr. Huxley—'the' Huxley. And his third visitor, Sir Francis Galton, of genetics fame, also said it couldn't be done.

"Well, let's see him do it.'

[page] 225

'Point is, there stood Father (young) all jacketed and buttoned up. Then—don't ask me how—it was managed! Whether it was an extra mastery of body, natural suppleness, or the forces of well-practised muscular contractions, I don't know. He never explained. . . He'd put his right hand up his left sleeve, up to his chest. . . he'd got the waistcoat off, crushed in his hand, and through the sleeve of his jacket, not a button unfastened! and dropped it on the terrace of Down House at the feet of the three wise men. 'He's done it!'

Was it this trick of physical ability, added to the ruder health and good spirits of our Metioneth forbears, that gained for them the abiding friendship and approval of the Darwins? They, with such brain, such erudition, such reputations, all of them constantly breaking

fresh ground in different spheres, with associations, a circle and a way of life such Poles apart!

"Maudie, why do you think the Darwins have always liked us?' For they obviously have. All down the generations that friendship has survived. Why?

"Because we're different.'

"That's not the answer to real friendship.'

People imagine they're drawn to someone for his downright honesty and sincerity, bluntness—yes, but you can't trust him through thick and thin… Others admit it's physical—if they weren't good looking there wouldn't be the attraction. Nonsense, in both cases!

Watch the bees, intent upon honey, burrowing greedily head on in the heart of the flowers? What do they know of the shape and texture of the deep down roots? The reason for friendship that ties certain people together in heart though bodily they are far apart in distance and time—like Frank Darwin with Father—a hidden root.


Of the Darwins it had been said that there were three things that they could not understand. People being

1. Hard-up.

2. Unhappy.

[page] 226

3. Religious.

By 'religious' take the ancestral idea meaning regular attendance at an established Church, for who will now claim that Charles Darwin and those of his family who dedicated themselves to study of the 'marvellous ways' in which the wonders of Nature were performed were not religious?

The Darwins never—except to get married—went to Church.

[page] [228]

43 Collector's Piece

Over the many years before our time, that unlikely friendship between the Darwins and our people strengthened and widened. Visits to Pantlludw and Down respectively were exchanged. Aunts and Uncles became interfamily friends. Highly-glazed photographs were slipped into those monumental family-albums, heavy as paving-stones with metal clasps as of a strong-box. One photograph of THE Darwin (who was to be plain Mister Darwin to the end of his life while sons of his were Knighted) shows him grown frail, elderly, but erect as he stands against a pillar. His face is serious but benevolent beneath the brim of a soft black hat drawn down to his brows and his white beard of a Father Christmas. "Taken just about the time he wrote to Taid,' (Welsh for grandfather) said my sister. 'I've got his letter here.'

"What's it about?'

"What you'd expect. Solemnly, about animals; on these very mountains. I'll read it.'




Jan 10th 1881.

My dear Mr. Ruck

I should be very much obliged if you could obtain for me from shepherds or from your own observation a little information which will appear to you a ridiculously small point but which interests me in relation to little ledges on mountain-sides which have been observed in many parts of the world, My question is whether sheep or mountain cattle whilst grazing on a very steep slope of turf usually travel across the slope horizontally or

[page] 229

slowly ascend it. If a flock of sheep were grazing on a steep slope it would be easy to observe whether they moved up parallel to the bed of the valley, and this I wish to know. If you trust the shepherds, it would I think be advisable to ask two of them as a check, one on the other. I hope that you will forgive me for troubling you on points apparently so trivial,

and I remain, my dear Mr. Ruck

Yours sincerely,

Charles Darwin.

"Oh, Maudie! That's more like him. As the young Charles Darwin who by a fluke got to those unexplored islands!—you can see it. This gives the attention to detail, the 'capacity for taking pains', the absolute passion of the Genius for his real job! Solemn? No! I can see him now, in his twenties, swotting on those Islands, digging out strange new gen. Scrambling through forest-land. . . Picture a slim Darwin astride the back of one of those gigantic turtles—

'Not turtles! Tortoises, they were.'

"Well, tortoises. . . Finding out important detail even from their empty shells strewn on the untrodden beaches. . . All those exotic creatures let him pick them up or roll them over when he wanted a close-up. . . Not afraid of men, never seen a man before, didn't know what men would be like, what they'd do to animals—I say! What a collector's piece this letter would make, with it's questions, so near the Darwin Centenary and all—No, I know you won't let it out of your house! … Give me a look at his handwriting.' She handed me the two sheets of this collector's piece. I was disappointed… Why? It was clear. Words well spaced. "Every letter in every word should be recognisable if taken out of the context,' as Father said, 'otherwise it shows bad manners.' This letter was true to those maxims.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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