The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 116 of 188

Charles Darwin to J.D. Hooker.

Down, October 12th, 1849.

…By the way, one of the pleasantest parts of the British Association was my journey down to Birmingham with Mrs. Sabine, Mrs. Reeve, and the Colonel; also Col. Sykes and Porter. Mrs. Sabine and myself agreed wonderfully on many points, and in none more sincerely than about you. We spoke about your letters from the Erebus; and she quite agreed with me, that you and the author (Sir J. Hooker wrote the spirited description of cattle hunting in Sir J. Ross’s ‘Voyage of Discovery in the Southern Regions,’ 1847, vol. ii., page 245.), of the description of the cattle hunting in the Falklands, would have made a capital book together! A very nice woman she is, and so is her sharp and sagacious mother…Birmingham was very flat compared to Oxford, though I had my wife with me. We saw a good deal of the Lyells and Horners and Robinsons (the President); but the place was dismal, and I was prevented, by being unwell, from going to Warwick, though that, i.e., the party, by all accounts, was wonderfully inferior to Blenheim, not to say anything of that heavenly day at Dropmore. One gets weary of all the spouting…

You ask about my cold-water cure; I am going on very well, and am certainly a little better every month, my nights mend much slower than my days. I have built a douche, and am to go on through all the winter, frost or no frost. My treatment now is lamp five times per week, and shallow bath for five minutes afterwards; douche daily for five minutes, and dripping sheet daily. The treatment is wonderfully tonic, and I have had more better consecutive days this month than on any previous ones…I am allowed to work now two and a half hours daily, and I find it as much as I can do, for the cold-water cure, together with three short walks, is curiously exhausting; and I am actually forced to go to bed at eight o’clock completely tired. I steadily gain in weight, and eat immensely, and am never oppressed with my food. I have lost the involuntary twitching of the muscle, and all the fainting feelings, etc–black spots before eyes, etc. Dr. Gully thinks he shall quite cure me in six or nine months more.

The greatest bore, which I find in the water-cure, is the having been compelled to give up all reading, except the newspapers; for my daily two and a half hours at the Barnacles is fully as much as I can do of anything which occupies the mind; I am consequently terribly behind in all scientific books. I have of late been at work at mere species describing, which is much more difficult than I expected, and has much the same sort of interest as a puzzle has; but I confess I often feel wearied with the work, and cannot help sometimes asking myself what is the good of spending a week or fortnight in ascertaining that certain just perceptible differences blend together and constitute varieties and not species. As long as I am on anatomy I never feel myself in that disgusting, horrid, cui bono, inquiring, humour. What miserable work, again, it is searching for priority of names. I have just finished two species, which possess seven generic, and twenty-four specific names! My chief comfort is, that the work must be sometime done, and I may as well do it, as any one else.

I have given up my agitation against mihi and nobis; my paper is too long to send to you, so you must see it, if you care to do so, on your return. By-the-way, you say in your letter that you care more for my species work than for the Barnacles; now this is too bad of you, for I declare your decided approval of my plain Barnacle work over theoretic species work, had very great influence in deciding me to go on with the former, and defer my species paper…

[The following letter refers to the death of his little daughter, which took place at Malvern on April 24, 1851:]

Charles Darwin to W.D. Fox.

Down, April 29th [1851].

My dear Fox,

I do not suppose you will have heard of our bitter and cruel loss. Poor dear little Annie, when going on very well at Malvern, was taken with a vomiting attack, which was at first thought of the smallest importance; but it rapidly assumed the form of a low and dreadful fever, which carried her off in ten days. Thank God, she suffered hardly at all, and expired as tranquilly as a little angel. Our only consolation is that she passed a short, though joyous life. She was my favourite child; her cordiality, openness, buoyant joyousness and strong affections made her most lovable. Poor dear little soul. Well it is all over…

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