The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 45 of 188

When my father had several guests he managed them well, getting a talk with each, or bringing two or three together round his chair. In these conversations there was always a good deal of fun, and, speaking generally, there was either a humorous turn in his talk, or a sunny geniality which served instead. Perhaps my recollection of a pervading element of humour is the more vivid, because the best talks were with Mr. Huxley, in whom there is the aptness which is akin to humour, even when humour itself is not there. My father enjoyed Mr. Huxley’s humour exceedingly, and would often say, “What splendid fun Huxley is!” I think he probably had more scientific argument (of the nature of a fight) with Lyell and Sir Joseph Hooker.

He used to say that it grieved him to find that for the friends of his later life he had not the warm affection of his youth. Certainly in his early letters from Cambridge he gives proofs of very strong friendship for Herbert and Fox; but no one except himself would have said that his affection for his friends was not, throughout life, of the warmest possible kind. In serving a friend he would not spare himself, and precious time and strength were willingly given. He undoubtedly had, to an unusual degree, the power of attaching his friends to him. He had many warm friendships, but to Sir Joseph Hooker he was bound by ties of affection stronger than we often see among men. He wrote in his ‘Recollections,’ “I have known hardly any man more lovable than Hooker.”

His relationship to the village people was a pleasant one; he treated them, one and all, with courtesy, when he came in contact with them, and took an interest in all relating to their welfare. Some time after he came to live at Down he helped to found a Friendly Club, and served as treasurer for thirty years. He took much trouble about the club, keeping its accounts with minute and scrupulous exactness, and taking pleasure in its prosperous condition. Every Whit-Monday the club used to march round with band and banner, and paraded on the lawn in front of the house. There he met them, and explained to them their financial position in a little speech seasoned with a few well worn jokes. He was often unwell enough to make even this little ceremony an exertion, but I think he never failed to meet them.

He was also treasurer of the Coal Club, which gave him some work, and he acted for some years as a County Magistrate.

With regard to my father’s interest in the affairs of the village, Mr. Brodie Innes has been so good as to give me his recollections:–

“On my becoming Vicar of Down in 1846, we became friends, and so continued till his death. His conduct towards me and my family was one of unvarying kindness, and we repaid it by warm affection.

“In all parish matters he was an active assistant; in matters connected with the schools, charities, and other business, his liberal contribution was ever ready, and in the differences which at times occurred in that, as in other parishes, I was always sure of his support. He held that where there was really no important objection, his assistance should be given to the clergyman, who ought to know the circumstances best, and was chiefly responsible.”

His intercourse with strangers was marked with scrupulous and rather formal politeness, but in fact he had few opportunities of meeting strangers.

Dr. Lane has described (Lecture by Dr. B.W. Richardson, in St. George’s Hall, October 22, 1882.) how, on the rare occasion of my father attending a lecture (Dr. Sanderson’s) at the Royal Institution, “the whole assembly…rose to their feet to welcome him,” while he seemed “scarcely conscious that such an outburst of applause could possibly be intended for himself.” The quiet life he led at Down made him feel confused in a large society; for instance, at the Royal Society’s soirees he felt oppressed by the numbers. The feeling that he ought to know people, and the difficulty he had in remembering faces in his latter years, also added to his discomfort on such occasions. He did not realise that he would be recognised from his photographs, and I remember his being uneasy at being obviously recognised by a stranger at the Crystal Palace Aquarium.

I must say something of his manner of working: one characteristic of it was his respect for time; he never forgot how precious it was. This was shown, for instance, in the way in which he tried to curtail his holidays; also, and more clearly, with respect to shorter periods. He would often say, that saving the minutes was the way to get work done; he showed his love of saving the minutes in the difference he felt between a quarter of an hour and ten minutes’ work; he never wasted a few spare minutes from thinking that it was not worth while to set to work. I was often struck by his way of working up to the very limit of his strength, so that he suddenly stopped in dictating, with the words, “I believe I mustn’t do any more.” The same eager desire not to lose time was seen in his quick movements when at work. I particularly remember noticing this when he was making an experiment on the roots of beans, which required some care in manipulation; fastening the little bits of card upon the roots was done carefully and necessarily slowly, but the intermediate movements were all quick; taking a fresh bean, seeing that the root was healthy, impaling it on a pin, fixing it on a cork, and seeing that it was vertical, etc; all these processes were performed with a kind of restrained eagerness. He always gave one the impression of working with pleasure, and not with any drag. I have an image, too, of him as he recorded the result of some experiment, looking eagerly at each root, etc., and then writing with equal eagerness. I remember the quick movement of his head up and down as he looked from the object to the notes.

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