The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 53 of 188

Archdeacon Watkins, another old college friend of my father’s, remembers him unearthing beetles in the willows between Cambridge and Grantchester, and speaks of a certain beetle the remembrance of whose name is “Crux major.” (Panagaeus crux-major.) How enthusiastically must my father have exulted over this beetle to have impressed its name on a companion so that he remembers it after half a century! Archdeacon Watkins goes on: “I do not forget the long and very interesting conversations that we had about Brazilian scenery and tropical vegetation of all sorts. Nor do I forget the way and the vehemence with which he rubbed his chin when he got excited on such subjects, and discoursed eloquently of lianas, orchids, etc.”

He became intimate with Henslow, the Professor of Botany, and through him with some other older members of the University. “But,” Mr. Herbert writes, “he always kept up the closest connection with the friends of his own standing; and at our frequent social gatherings–at breakfast, wine or supper parties–he was ever one of the most cheerful, the most popular, and the most welcome.”

My father formed one of a club for dining once a week, called the Gourmet (Mr. Herbert mentions the name as ‘The Glutton Club.’) Club, the members, besides himself and Mr. Herbert (from whom I quote), being Whitley of St. John’s, now Honorary Canon of Durham (Formerly Reader in Natural Philosophy at Durham University.); Heaviside of Sidney, now Canon of Norwich; Lovett Cameron of Trinity, now vicar of Shoreham; Blane of Trinity, who held a high post during the Crimean war; H. Lowe (Brother of Lord Sherbrooke.) (Now Sherbrooke) of Trinity Hall; and Watkins of Emmanuel, now Archdeacon of York. The origin of the club’s name seems already to have become involved in obscurity. Mr. Herbert says that it was chosen in derision of another “set of men who called themselves by a long Greek name signifying ‘fond of dainties,’ but who falsified their claim to such a designation by their weekly practice of dining at some roadside inn, six miles from Cambridge, on mutton chops or beans and bacon.” Another old member of the club tells me that the name arose because the members were given to making experiments on “birds and beasts which were before unknown to human palate.” He says that hawk and bittern were tried, and that their zeal broke down over an old brown owl, “which was indescribable.” At any rate, the meetings seemed to have been successful, and to have ended with “a game of mild vingt-et-un.”

Mr. Herbert gives an amusing account of the musical examinations described by my father in his ‘Recollections.” Mr. Herbert speaks strongly of his love of music, and adds, “What gave him the greatest delight was some grand symphony or overture of Mozart’s or Beethoven’s, with their full harmonies.’ On one occasion Herbert remembers “accompanying him to the afternoon service at King’s, when we heard a very beautiful anthem. At the end of one of the parts, which was exceedingly impressive, he turned round to me and said, with a deep sigh, ‘How’s your backbone?'” He often spoke of a feeling of coldness or shivering in his back on hearing beautiful music.

Besides a love of music, he had certainly at this time a love of fine literature; and Mr. Cameron tells me that he used to read Shakespeare to my father in his rooms at Christ’s, who took much pleasure in it. He also speaks of his “great liking for first-class line engravings, especially those of Raphael Morghen and Muller; and he spent hours in the Fitzwilliam Museum in looking over the prints in that collection.”

My father’s letters to Fox show how sorely oppressed he felt by the reading of an examination: “I am reading very hard, and have spirits for nothing. I actually have not stuck a beetle this term.” His despair over mathematics must have been profound, when he expressed a hope that Fox’s silence is due to “your being ten fathoms deep in the Mathematics; and if you are, God help you, for so am I, only with this difference, I stick fast in the mud at the bottom, and there I shall remain.” Mr. Herbert says: “He had, I imagine, no natural turn for mathematics, and he gave up his mathematical reading before he had mastered the first part of Algebra, having had a special quarrel with Surds and the Binomial Theorem.”

We get some evidence from his letters to Fox of my father’s intention of going into the Church. “I am glad,” he writes (March 18, 1829.), “to hear that you are reading divinity. I should like to know what books you are reading, and your opinions about them; you need not be afraid of preaching to me prematurely.” Mr. Herbert’s sketch shows how doubts arose in my father’s mind as to the possibility of his taking Orders. He writes, “We had an earnest conversation about going into Holy Orders; and I remember his asking me, with reference to the question put by the Bishop in the ordination service, ‘Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit, etc.,’ whether I could answer in the affirmative, and on my saying I could not, he said, ‘Neither can I, and therefore I cannot take orders.'” This conversation appears to have taken place in 1829, and if so, the doubts here expressed must have been quieted, for in May 1830, he speaks of having some thoughts of reading divinity with Henslow.

The greater number of the following letters are addressed by my father to his cousin, William Darwin Fox. Mr. Fox’s relationship to my father is shown in the pedigree given in Chapter I. The degree of kinship appears to have remained a problem to my father, as he signs himself in one letter “cousin/n to the power 2.” Their friendship was, in fact, due to their being undergraduates together. My father’s letters show clearly enough how genuine the friendship was. In after years, distance, large families, and ill-health on both sides, checked the intercourse; but a warm feeling of friendship remained. The correspondence was never quite dropped and continued till Mr. Fox’s death in 1880. Mr. Fox took orders, and worked as a country clergyman until forced by ill-health to leave his living in Delamare Forest. His love of natural history remained strong, and he became a skilled fancier of many kinds of birds, etc. The index to ‘Animals and Plants,’ and my father’s later correspondence, show how much help he received from his old College friend.]

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