RECORD: Litchfield, Henrietta Emma née Darwin. [Autobiographical fragment.] CUL-DAR246.-. Transcribed by Richard Carter. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed and edited by Richard Carter, corrections by John van Wyhe. RN2

NOTE: See record in the Darwin Online manuscript catalogue, enter its Identifier here. Reproduced with the permission of William Huxley Darwin.

See also transcribed in Darwin Online: Darwin, Henrietta Emma. 3-7.1871. Journal. CUL-DAR247.-


1

I was born at Down in 1843. My parents left London 1841 and came to Down, where my father lived till his death. My elder sister, Mary Eleanor, was born a few weeks after the move and died as an infant. My mother wrote that it was long before she should forget that little face and that she had taken pleasure in tracing a likeness to her own mother.

1 Year left incomplete, presumably the author could not remember the exact year. The Darwins moved to Down in 1842.

2

Down has been described both in the Life of my father, & in the Century of Family Letters, and I have nothing to add.

My memories of early childhood are vague & incomplete. I cannot remember being taught to read or write. Nor can I remember what were my first favourite books. George, my next younger brother, had Jack the Giant Killer read over & over again. I can only

3

recall Mrs Sherwood's Little Robert & the Owl, [illeg] & Sophia, and later The Children of the New Forest, Miss Edgworth's stories, Feats on the Fiord, Settlers at Home & one especial favourite called Little Servant Maids. This little book is, I fear, entirely lost and yet, if my judgement is correct, it was first rate. It described in the most delightful way all the activities of the little maids, their sins & the sins of their mistresses. My mother kept

3A

a library for the villagers of Down. It consisted chiefly of books for the children but there were also some for the adults.

3B

They were given out in a little dismal room where she used to interview her many clients for help of one sort or another, flannel, money, cough mixture, etc. On Sunday afternoon the children could come to exchange the books & there was sometimes quite a little crowd. The only rule was that no child should have more than one book

4

This they evaded, if they wished, by inventing demands from the elders of the family, or at least so we thought. If a book was much enjoyed the proof was that it was stolen however often it was replaced. This was the fate of my beloved Little Servant Maids, and at last it was not able to be procured & is now no longer existent.

5

My mother took very little trouble about our education, and I was frankly bored with schoolroom lessons and schoolroom life. My aim was to escape as soon as possible either to look after some of my many pet animals, or to get a quiet corner to read. I cannot remember playing much with my juniors, unless there was an exciting group of cousins, girls

6

& boys, & some older than me. The Hensleigh Wedgwoods & Edmund Laughton were our greatest friends.

I believe I was a very framsy little being, requiring my shoes to be like little buckets & no touch of flannel to affront my skin. When it was a difficult job to get me to bed, my eldest brother, Willy, was had up to succeed in coaxing me into my night gown when nurses

7

had failed. William was a delightful elder brother to his four juniors George, Frank, Leonard, & Horace, making a particular pet of Horace, the youngest of the family. Leonard was our main favourite. For one advantage he was much the prettiest, but he also had a great charm of simplicity & a sense of personal dignity. "Janey, a maid oughtn't to speak like that to a child", I remember

8

his saying to one of our nursemaids. There must be a book of his sayings somewhere in the family archives, but who possesses it, I do not know. I can never remember any bickering or jars amongst the brothers, and obedience to our parents was the rule. George, who in later life was extremely good tempered, sometimes went into violent passions as a little boy of four or five. My mother once slapped him as he was raging on the floor

9

& this was held to be a mark of superiority over the rest of us & boasted of: "Mama always spanks me when I am naughty."

I cared for all the animals about the place, seeing the cows milked, rushing past the heels of one hornless yellow cow who, it was supposed, would kick us if she could. Grooming the donkey with worn out brushes & combs, taming the chickens so that they could eat out of my hand.

10

Also taming the pigeons, which my father had for experimental purposes. I can still recall their different characteristics. A cross old fantail who in taking food from my hand liked to give a good peck & hurt me if he could. The pouter pigeon was good natured but not clever, and I remember a hen jacobin which I considered rather feeble minded.

11

But cats were my great standby, cats & kittens. There was a certain very small shed opening out to the garden just beyond the mulberry tree. This I was allowed to take possession of & make it my little house with flower pots for seats & broken bits of crockery for china. Here my cats sometimes kept their kittens & I would sit for long hours

12

watching them & sympathising with the cat's admiration of her kittens, sympathy that the cat demanded as plainly as cat language could speak. There was a tragedy connected with a very favourite, but rather fierce tabby cat, named Bullzig. I adored this cat ever since his kitten hood when he lived entirely with me. I was then a sick child often lying on the big dining room sofa and his games were the comfort of my life.

13

When he was grown up, but still my beloved companion, he took to killing the pigeons, which could not of course be submitted to. But I felt the most bitter sense of illusage when one morning I was told he was killed. I thought then, & I think now, I ought to have been told beforehand.

We led an intensely quiet life seeing practically nothing of our

14

neighbours. This was a misfortune. I think if my mother had been more socially inclined, in spite of my father's ill-health, it might have been to a certain extent avoided. It led to my feeling myself to be a kind of outcast & being shy & ill at ease when in company. But the cousins were many & delightful—the animals also many & delightful—

15

I was free of the garden & the neighbouring fields—and my childhood, as I look back on it, seems to me to have been full of happiness. Though I was a very poor rider I enjoyed it very much. I was never strong enough to take good long walks with the others, therefore riding along the quiet lanes sometimes alone, when I was older,

16

but generally with our Aunt Sarah's factotum, Henry Hemmings, on her carriage horse seemed to enlarge my outlook.

Leaving home was the rarest possible event. I can remember now after ?1 years, the exact place in the road, coming up from the village, by the pond & the tall Lombardy poplars, where I was told the tremendous

1 The question mark is written very lightly, presumably so it could be overwritten with the correct number later.

17

news that we were all going to Malvern for my father to try the of the water cure under the well-known Dr Gully.

It was at Malvern, when I was 1 years old that I first remember being struck by an exceptionally beautiful sunset seen from the hills. I also remember admiring another scene which impressed me with the beauty & charm. It was a stream widening out into a pool by the side of the road & over shadowed with trees. In the dry chalk country about Down, streams were entirely

1 A gap has been left in the manuscript, presumably for the later insertion of the Henrietta's age.

18

unknown to me. The Malvern hills & the view over the plain seem to have made no impression on me.

I remember the little china mugs we got at St Anne's Well & drinking the water at the well.

My father, as he thought returned home much the better for the "cure". To enable him to continue the treatment a

19

a little wooden house was put up by the Well for him to use as a dressing room.

The water from the adjoining well was pumped up into a little steeple attached to the dressing room.

By pulling a string the ice cold water came down with a good deal of force, & made a practical douche.

We children used to stand outside

20

to listen to his groans & I have an image of his coming out half running & half frozen to take his usual morning walk in the Sandwalk, where we meant to accompany him.

I think the water cure was one of the many attempts to gain health which failed. After a time, & not I think a long time, this

21

home treatment was given up. He never went again to Dr Gully's.

Some years later he went more than once to Dr Lane's at Moor Park near Farnham, but I believe took no treatment. It was a cure, as far as it was one, of rest and change of scene which enabled him to forget his work.

Annie's death at Malvern

22

would have made another visit there impossible. This grief at her loss remained so fresh in his mind that she was never spoken of to him & but rarely to my mother. I believe she was the flower of their flock with a gift for music, more beauty & much more charm. The maids told me, I well remember, how superior she was to me in all ways

23

but especially in sweetness of disposition.

The Lubbocks were our nearest neighbours but we children saw nothing of them. John, the eldest son, afterwards the first Lord Avebury, came fairly often for scientific talks with my father but he took no pains to know my mother & never realised in the least what she was. He married when he was about 21 a beautiful

24

& fascinating creature, a Miss Hordern. So much talk of what "Nelly" said & did & thought got sandwiched in with science that I remember my father found himself almost saying: "Does Nelly really think or say so & so?" This would have been a tremendous liberty in those days. She fascinated my father & it was a red letter day to me too if she came to call.

25

I remember one call took place when Mrs Hooker (afterwards Lady Hooker), a some what chilly and conceited lady was present. As soon as Mrs Lubbock departed, Mrs Hooker said, with a little sniff of scorn, that she had counted four different blues in Mrs Lubbock's attire. I can recall my father's warm retort that however many blues

26

she wore she looked charmingly pretty (not that I can remember the exact words) & tho' he snubbed & silenced Mrs Hooker he would not have been rude.

I, too, would have been willing to adore at her shrine. The door was open a crack but to my sorrow it was quietly shut again.

It was a misfortune that the four

27

younger boys all went to grammar school at Clapham. It made another between them & the neighbour's sons. They neither shot, nor hunted. I believe my mother had learnt to believe that both these sports were wrong. My father thought that in the matter of cruelty shooting was infinitely worse, that the suffering of one wounded bird which got

28

away was out of all comparison worse than any suffering of the fox. His belief was that for all the first part of the chase the fox was quite cheerful & that only in the last short times before would there be anything to be called suffering. But whether he came to this conclusion from his observations of the behaviour of the1

1 The author appears to have omitted a word (presumably 'fox') at the page-break.

29

I do not know.

To return to Clapham school. I believe George considered he might have owed his mathematical success to his teaching at Clapham by Dr Pritchard. But that I believe to have been the sole & only good which resulted to any of them. The boys were not of their own position in life & the moral tone was not good. I do not

30

think the education of the boys was really more wisely arranged than were the governesses, who taught me, Bessy & the younger one before school age.

Miss Thorley was the first governess I remember. She was a dull but worthy girl. The reason for engaging her was that her father, a solicitor at Tarporley, died leaving a widow

31

and five children to be supported. They were protèges of the Tollets, the family friends of the Wedgwoods, & it was a grand move both for the Tollets & Thorleys when their family was thrust into my mother's arms never to be shaken off by Betty and myself until the last sister died at the age of 90 well into the 20th Century.

Miss Thorley had no gift for teaching nor for making me care for her. I

32

well remember how I despised her for never saying in answer to a question, "I don't know", but always trying unsuccessfully, as fas as I was concerned, to hide her ignorance. I used to consider before trying to get something cleared up whether it was likely she would know or not. As soon as the blessed hour of 12 struck & I had hardly banged the door before

33

rushing off, she always began one of the best known & most whiney song without words—always, always, the same, so that it still rings in my ears. The next sister Lizzie was far superior, but the Frank Wedgwoods at Barleston had the luck of getting her, then came a mad sister, then Emily whom I was fond of all her life & whose singing I used to enjoy.

34

And then the proverbial bad brother of a family of governers. He was sent to Oxford where he wasted his time except as to singing & rowing & picking up smart acquaintances. His sisters slaved for him & supported him & he went about singing & paying visits &, as far as I know, never tried to earn a penny. Late in

35

in life the Thorleys inherited a moderate fortune. They trusted him to invest it & about half of it disappeared. Still enough remained to enable them to live in modest comfort & no longer to try & earn money as indifferent daily governesses.

My health broke down when I was about 12 years old & I practically had very little to do

36

with schoolroom teaching or life.

My mother made one success in getting a governess who made the lessons interesting. But she was neurotic & semi-mad. She used to sit at meals with tears quietly pouring down her cheeks.

I believe she thought the father of her late pupils was in love with her, or at any rate that she

37

was in love with him. She soon became too mad to be at large and my mother added to the cares the governesses brought to her by going to see the poor lady in the asylum where she was for many years & paying for a country holiday for her every summer. She had a gift for collecting mad people, for we

38

had another quite mad Jane who had to be quickly sent off.

The tale ended with a very incompetent German governess, who taught us no german & not much of any thing else. I have this very year (1926) had a letter from her son (she married an English person) who is quite as incompetent to get on in the world as was

39

his mother though quite well-meaning. These misfits in the world are the most melancholy objects of compassion. I can conceive no possible walk in life where he could have been of any use. He tried through my influence being a Bank clerk & was dismissed as "a hopeless duffer". He enlisted & after 6

40

months was discharged as no good even for civilian work.

My mother left him £500 & it was used in sending him to Oxford. I believe he was happy there, but I am afraid £25 a year would be far more useful to him. His language is as priggish as Dominic Sampson's, but there is something in him

41

which rouses a sense of compassion and one or two people have been very kind to him. He taught for a time in a preparatory school, but a Government Inspector said that if he was allowed to take any class the school could not be certified for a government grant. However he is kept on though for what

42

service I cannot imagine. I doubt if he could brush the boy's clothes or make their beds. It must be pure kindness.

Note by LD1 CD tht the educn at Rugby so bad, he chose Clapham Grammar School for his remaining sons, as he heard thro' the father of the Herschels who were there that the teaching was good particy the math. teaching of Pritchard, afterwards Prof. of Astronomy at Oxford

1 Leonard Darwin.


This document has been accessed 3060 times

Return to homepage

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

File last updated 8 December, 2022