RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1862. [Recollections of Professor Henslow]. In Jenyns, L., Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow M.A., F.L.S., F.G.S., F.C.P.S., late Rector of Hitcham and Professor of Botany in the University of Cambridge. London: John Van Voorst, pp. 51-55.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 2002-8. RN2
As it is the main object of this memoir to set forth Professor Henslow's character in a true point of view, and to show the influence for good he exercised on others,—it gives me great pleasure to be able to insert the following recollections of him from Mr. Darwin, the first of the names above mentioned, and thus to have much of what I have stated confirmed by one who knew him so well, and who could so thoroughly appreciate the excellence of his disposition:—
"I went to Cambridge early in the year 1828, and soon became acquainted, through some of my brother entomologists, with Professor Henslow,1 for all who cared for any branch of natural history were equally encouraged by him. Nothing could be more simple, cordial, and unpretending than the encouragement which he afforded to all young naturalists. I soon became intimate with him, for he had a remarkable power of making the young feel completely at ease with him; though we were all awe-struck with the amount of his knowledge. Before I saw him, I heard one young man sum up his attainments by simply saying that he knew everything. When I reflect how immediately we felt at perfect ease with a man older and in every way so immensely our superior, I think it was as much owing to the transparent sincerity of his character, as to his kindness of heart; and, perhaps, even still more to a highly remarkable absence in him of all self-consciousness. One perceived at once that he never thought of his own varied knowledge or clear
1 John Stevens Henslow, professor of botany at the University of Cambridge, died on 16 May 1861 aged sixty-five.
Leonard Jenyns (1800-1893), later Blomefield, naturalist, clergyman and Henslow's brother-in-law. The Memoir was published in May 1862. See Correspondence vols. 9-10. See also Darwin's reminiscences of Henslow in his Autobiography.
intellect, but solely on the subject in hand. Another charm, which must have struck every one, was that his manner to old and distinguished persons and to the youngest student was exactly the same: to all he showed the same winning courtesy. He would receive with interest the most trifling observation in any branch of natural history; and however absurd a blunder one might make, he pointed it out so clearly and kindly, that one left him no way disheartened, but only determined to be more accurate the next time.1 In short, no man could be better formed to win the entire confidence of the young, and to encourage them in their pursuits.
"His Lectures on Botany were universally popular, and as clear as daylight.2 So popular were they, that several of the older members of the University attended successive courses. Once every week he kept open house in the evening, and all who cared for natural history attended these parties, which, by thus favouring intercommunication, did the same good in Cambridge, in a very pleasant manner, as the Scientific Societies do in London. At these parties many of the most distinguished members of the University occasionally attended; and when only a few were present, I have listened to the great men of those days, conversing on all sorts of subjects, with the most varied and brilliant powers. This was no small advantage to some of the younger men, as it stimulated their mental activity and ambition. Two or three times in each session he took excursions with his botanical class; either a long walk to the habitat of some rare plant, or in a barge down the river to the fens, or in coaches
1 In his Autobiography p. 66 Darwin wrote:
Whilst examining some pollen-grains on a damp surface I saw the tubes exserted, and instantly rushed off to communicate my surprising discovery to him. Now I do not suppose any other Professor of Botany could have helped laughing at my coming in such a hurry to make such a communication. But he agreed how interesting the phenomenon was, and explained its meaning, but made me clearly understand how well it was known; so I left him not in the least mortified, but well pleased at having discovered for myself so remarkable a fact, but determined not to be in such a hurry again to communicate my discoveries.
to some more distant place, as to Gamlingay,1 to see the wild lily of the valley, and to catch on the heath the rare natter-jack.2 These excursions have left a delightful impression on my mind. He was, on such occasions, in as good spirits as a boy, and laughed as heartily as a boy at the misadventures of those who chased the splendid swallow-tail butterflies across the broken and treacherous fens. He used to pause every now and then and lecture on some plant or other object; and something he could tell us on every insect, shell, or fossil collected, for he had attended to every branch of natural history. After our day's work we used to dine at some inn or house, and most jovial we then were. I believe all who joined these excursions will agree with me that they have left an enduring impression of delight on our minds.
"As time passed on at Cambridge I became very intimate with Professor Henslow, and his kindness was unbounded; he continually asked me to his house, and allowed me to accompany him in his walks. He talked on all subjects, including his deep sense of religion, and was entirely open. I owe more than I can express to this excellent man. His kindness was steady: when Captain Fitzroy offered to give up part of his own cabin to any naturalist who would join the expedition in H.M.S. Beagle, Professor Henslow recommended me, as one who knew very little, but who, he thought, would work. I was strongly attached to natural history, and this attachment I owed, in large part, to him. During the five years' voyage, he regularly corresponded with me and guided my efforts; he received, opened, and took care of all the specimens
1 About 15 miles WSW of Cambridge.
2 An English toad which runs rather than hops.
sent home in many large boxes; but I firmly believe that, during these five years, it never once crossed his mind that he was acting towards me with unusual and generous kindness.
"During the years when I associated so much with Professor Henslow, I never once saw his temper even ruffled. He never took an ill-natured view of any one's character, though very far from blind to the foibles of others. It always struck me that his mind could not be even touched by any paltry feeling of vanity, envy, or jealousy. With all this equability of temper and remarkable benevolence, there was no insipidity of character. A man must have been blind not to have perceived that beneath this placid exterior there was a vigorous and determined will. When principle came into play, no power on earth could have turned him one hair's breadth.
"After the year 1842, when I left London, I saw Professor Henslow only at long intervals; but to the last, he continued in all respects the same man. I think he cared somewhat less about science, and more for his parishioners. When speaking of his allotments, his parish children, and plans of amusing and instructing them, he would always kindle up with interest and enjoyment. I remember one trifling fact which seemed to me highly characteristic of the man: in one of the bad years for the potato, I asked him how his crop had fared; but after a little talk I perceived that, in fact, he knew nothing about his own potatoes, but seemed to know exactly what sort of crop there was in the garden of almost every poor man in his parish.
"In intellect, as far as I could judge, accurate powers of observation, sound sense, and cautious judgment seemed predominant. Nothing seemed to give him so much enjoyment, as drawing conclusions from minute observations. But his admirable memoir on the geology of Anglesea,1 shows his capacity for extended observations and broad views. Reflecting over his character with gratitude and reverence, his moral attributes rise, as they should do in the highest character, in pre-eminence over his intellect.
1 Henslow 1822.
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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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