The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 39 of 188

The early morning was the only time at which he could make any effort of the kind, with comparative impunity. Thus it came about that the visits he paid to his scientific friends in London were by preference made as early as ten in the morning. For the same reason he started on his journeys by the earliest possible train, and used to arrive at the houses of relatives in London when they were beginning their day.

He kept an accurate journal of the days on which he worked and those on which his ill health prevented him from working, so that it would be possible to tell how many were idle days in any given year. In this journal–a little yellow Lett’s Diary, which lay open on his mantel-piece, piled on the diaries of previous years–he also entered the day on which he started for a holiday and that of his return.

The most frequent holidays were visits of a week to London, either to his brother’s house (6 Queen Anne Street), or to his daughter’s (4 Bryanston Street). He was generally persuaded by my mother to take these short holidays, when it became clear from the frequency of “bad days,” or from the swimming of his head, that he was being overworked. He went unwillingly, and tried to drive hard bargains, stipulating, for instance, that he should come home in five days instead of six. Even if he were leaving home for no more than a week, the packing had to be begun early on the previous day, and the chief part of it he would do himself. The discomfort of a journey to him was, at least latterly, chiefly in the anticipation, and in the miserable sinking feeling from which he suffered immediately before the start; even a fairly long journey, such as that to Coniston, tired him wonderfully little, considering how much an invalid he was; and he certainly enjoyed it in an almost boyish way, and to a curious extent.

Although, as he has said, some of his aesthetic tastes had suffered a gradual decay, his love of scenery remained fresh and strong. Every walk at Coniston was a fresh delight, and he was never tired of praising the beauty of the broken hilly country at the head of the lake.

One of the happy memories of this time [1879] is that of a delightful visit to Grasmere: “The perfect day,” my sister writes, “and my father’s vivid enjoyment and flow of spirits, form a picture in my mind that I like to think of. He could hardly sit still in the carriage for turning round and getting up to admire the view from each fresh point, and even in returning he was full of the beauty of Rydal Water, though he would not allow that Grasmere at all equalled his beloved Coniston.”

Besides these longer holidays, there were shorter visits to various relatives–to his brother-in-law’s house, close to Leith Hill, and to his son near Southampton. He always particularly enjoyed rambling over rough open country, such as the commons near Leith Hill and Southampton, the heath-covered wastes of Ashdown Forest, or the delightful “Rough” near the house of his friend Sir Thomas Farrer. He never was quite idle even on these holidays, and found things to observe. At Hartfield he watched Drosera catching insects, etc.; at Torquay he observed the fertilisation of an orchid (Spiranthes), and also made out the relations of the sexes in Thyme.

He was always rejoiced to get home after his holidays; he used greatly to enjoy the welcome he got from his dog Polly, who would get wild with excitement, panting, squeaking, rushing round the room, and jumping on and off the chairs; and he used to stoop down, pressing her face to his, letting her lick him, and speaking to her with a peculiarly tender, caressing voice.

My father had the power of giving to these summer holidays a charm which was strongly felt by all his family. The pressure of his work at home kept him at the utmost stretch of his powers of endurance, and when released from it, he entered on a holiday with a youthfulness of enjoyment that made his companionship delightful; we felt that we saw more of him in a week’s holiday than in a month at home.

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