The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 40 of 188

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.

Some of these absences from home, however, had a depressing effect on him; when he had been previously much overworked it seemed as though the absence of the customary strain allowed him to fall into a peculiar condition of miserable health.

Besides the holidays which I have mentioned, there were his visits to water-cure establishments. In 1849, when very ill, suffering from constant sickness, he was urged by a friend to try the water-cure, and at last agreed to go to Dr. Gully’s establishment at Malvern. His letters to Mr. Fox show how much good the treatment did him; he seems to have thought that he had found a cure for his troubles, but, like all other remedies, it had only a transient effect on him. However, he found it, at first, so good for him that when he came home he built himself a douche-bath, and the butler learnt to be his bathman.

He paid many visits to Moor Park, Dr. Lane’s water-cure establishment in Surrey, not far from Aldershot. These visits were pleasant ones, and he always looked back to them with pleasure. Dr. Lane has given his recollections of my father in Dr. Richardson’s ‘Lecture on Charles Darwin,’ October 22, 1882, from which I quote:–

“In a public institution like mine, he was surrounded, of course, by multifarious types of character, by persons of both sexes, mostly very different from himself–commonplace people, in short, as the majority are everywhere, but like to him at least in this, that they were fellow-creatures and fellow-patients. And never was any one more genial, more considerate, more friendly, more altogether charming than he universally was.”…He “never aimed, as too often happens with good talkers, at monopolising the conversation. It was his pleasure rather to give and take, and he was as good a listener as a speaker. He never preached nor prosed, but his talk, whether grave or gay (and it was each by turns), was full of life and salt–racy, bright, and animated.”

Some idea of his relation to his family and his friends may be gathered from what has gone before; it would be impossible to attempt a complete account of these relationships, but a slightly fuller outline may not be out of place. Of his married life I cannot speak, save in the briefest manner. In his relationship towards my mother, his tender and sympathetic nature was shown in its most beautiful aspect. In her presence he found his happiness, and through her, his life,–which might have been overshadowed by gloom,–became one of content and quiet gladness.

The ‘Expression of the Emotions’ shows how closely he watched his children; it was characteristic of him that (as I have heard him tell), although he was so anxious to observe accurately the expression of a crying child, his sympathy with the grief spoiled his observation. His note-book, in which are recorded sayings of his young children, shows his pleasure in them. He seemed to retain a sort of regretful memory of the childhoods which had faded away, and thus he wrote in his ‘Recollections’:–“When you were very young it was my delight to play with you all, and I think with a sigh that such days can never return.”

I may quote, as showing the tenderness of his nature, some sentences from an account of his little daughter Annie, written a few days after her death:–

“Our poor child, Annie, was born in Gower Street, on March 2, 1841, and expired at Malvern at mid-day on the 23rd of April, 1851.

“I write these few pages, as I think in after years, if we live, the impressions now put down will recall more vividly her chief characteristics. From whatever point I look back at her, the main feature in her disposition which at once rises before me, is her buoyant joyousness, tempered by two other characteristics, namely, her sensitiveness, which might easily have been overlooked by a stranger, and her strong affection. Her joyousness and animal spirits radiated from her whole countenance, and rendered every movement elastic and full of life and vigour. It was delightful and cheerful to behold her. Her dear face now rises before me, as she used sometimes to come running downstairs with a stolen pinch of snuff for me her whole form radiant with the pleasure of giving pleasure. Even when playing with her cousins, when her joyousness almost passed into boisterousness, a single glance of my eye, not of displeasure (for I thank God I hardly ever cast one on her), but of want of sympathy, would for some minutes alter her whole countenance.

“The other point in her character, which made her joyousness and spirits so delightful, was her strong affection, which was of a most clinging, fondling nature. When quite a baby, this showed itself in never being easy without touching her mother, when in bed with her; and quite lately she would, when poorly, fondle for any length of time one of her mother’s arms. When very unwell, her mother lying down beside her seemed to soothe her in a manner quite different from what it would have done to any of our other children. So, again, she would at almost any time spend half an hour in arranging my hair, ‘making it,’ as she called it, ‘beautiful,’ or in smoothing, the poor dear darling, my collar or cuffs–in short, in fondling me.

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