The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 114 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

[The Lodge, Malvern,
March 28th, 1849.]

My dear Hooker,

Your letter of the 13th of October has remained unanswered till this day! What an ungrateful return for a letter which interested me so much, and which contained so much and curious information. But I have had a bad winter.

On the 13th of November, my poor dear father died, and no one who did not know him would believe that a man above eighty-three years old could have retained so tender and affectionate a disposition, with all his sagacity unclouded to the last. I was at the time so unwell, that I was unable to travel, which added to my misery. Indeed, all this winter I have been bad enough…and my nervous system began to be affected, so that my hands trembled, and head was often swimming. I was not able to do anything one day out of three, and was altogether too dispirited to write to you, or to do anything but what I was compelled. I thought I was rapidly going the way of all flesh. Having heard, accidentally, of two persons who had received much benefit from the water-cure, I got Dr. Gully’s book, and made further enquiries, and at last started here, with wife, children, and all our servants. We have taken a house for two months, and have been here a fortnight. I am already a little stronger…Dr. Gully feels pretty sure he can do me good, which most certainly the regular doctors could not…I feel certain that the water-cure is no quackery.

How I shall enjoy getting back to Down with renovated health, if such is to be my good fortune, and resuming the beloved Barnacles. Now I hope that you will forgive me for my negligence in not having sooner answered your letter. I was uncommonly interested by the sketch you give of your intended grand expedition, from which I suppose you will soon be returning. How earnestly I hope that it may prove in every way successful…

[When my father was at the Water-cure Establishment at Malvern he was brought into contact with clairvoyance, of which he writes in the following extract from a letter to Fox, September, 1850.

“You speak about Homoeopathy, which is a subject which makes me more wrath, even than does Clairvoyance. Clairvoyance so transcends belief, that one’s ordinary faculties are put out of the question, but in homoeopathy common sense and common observation come into play, and both these must go to the dogs, if the infinitesimal doses have any effect whatever. How true is a remark I saw the other day by Quetelet, in respect to evidence of curative processes, viz., that no one knows in disease what is the simple result of nothing being done, as a standard with which to compare homoeopathy, and all other such things. It is a sad flaw, I cannot but think, in my beloved Dr. Gully, that he believes in everything. When Miss — was very ill, he had a clairvoyant girl to report on internal changes, a mesmerist to put her to sleep–an homoeopathist, viz. Dr. –, and himself as hydropathist! and the girl recovered.”

A passage out of an earlier letter to Fox (December, 1884) shows that he was equally sceptical on the subject of mesmerism: “With respect to mesmerism, the whole country resounds with wonderful facts or tales..I have just heard of a child, three or four years old (whose parents and self I well knew) mesmerised by his father, which is the first fact which has staggered me. I shall not believe fully till I see or hear from good evidence of animals (as has been stated is possible) not drugged, being put to stupor; of course the impossibility would not prove mesmerism false; but it is the only clear experimentum crucis, and I am astonished it has not been systematically tried. If mesmerism was investigated, like a science, this could not have been left till the present day to be done satisfactorily, as it has been I believe left. Keep some cats yourself, and do get some mesmeriser to attempt it. One man told me he had succeeded, but his experiments were most vague, and as was likely from a man who said cats were more easily done than other animals, because they were so electrical!”]

Charles Darwin to C. Lyell.

Down, December 4th [1849].

My dear Lyell,

This letter requires no answer, and I write from exuberance of vanity. Dana has sent me the Geology of the United States Expedition, and I have just read the Coral part. To begin with a modest speech, I am astonished at my own accuracy!! If I were to rewrite now my Coral book there is hardly a sentence I should have to alter, except that I ought to have attributed more effect to recent volcanic action in checking growth of coral. When I say all this I ought to add that the consequences of the theory on areas of subsidence are treated in a separate chapter to which I have not come, and in this, I suspect, we shall differ more. Dana talks of agreeing with my theory in most points; I can find out not one in which he differs. Considering how infinitely more he saw of Coral Reefs than I did, this is wonderfully satisfactory to me. He treats me most courteously. There now, my vanity is pretty well satisfied…

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