The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 94 of 188


[In the winter of 1839 {January 29) my father was married to his cousin, Emma Wedgwood. (Daughter of Josiah Wedgwood of Maer, and grand-daughter of the founder of the Etruria Pottery Works.) The house in which they lived for the first few years of their married life, No. 12 Upper Gower Street, was a small common-place London house, with a drawing-room in front, and a small room behind, in which they lived for the sake of quietness. In later years my father used to laugh over the surpassing ugliness of the furniture, carpets, etc., of the Gower Street house. The only redeeming feature was a better garden than most London houses have, a strip as wide as the house, and thirty yards long. Even this small space of dingy grass made their London house more tolerable to its two country-bred inhabitants.

Of his life in London he writes to Fox (October 1839): “We are living a life of extreme quietness; Delamere itself, which you describe as so secluded a spot, is, I will answer for it, quite dissipated compared with Gower Street. We have given up all parties, for they agree with neither of us; and if one is quiet in London, there is nothing like its quietness– there is a grandeur about its smoky fogs, and the dull distant sounds of cabs and coaches; in fact you may perceive I am becoming a thorough-paced Cockney, and I glory in thoughts that I shall be here for the next six months.”

The entries of ill health in the Diary increase in number during these years, and as a consequence the holidays become longer and more frequent.
>From April 26 to May 13, 1839, he was at Maer and Shrewsbury. Again, from August 23 to October 2 he was away from London at Maer, Shrewsbury, and at Birmingham for the meeting of the British Association.

The entry under August 1839 is: “During my visit to Maer, read a little, was much unwell and scandalously idle. I have derived this much good, that nothing is so intolerable as idleness.”

At the end of 1839 his eldest child was born, and it was then that he began his observations ultimately published in the ‘Expression of the Emotions.’ His book on this subject, and the short paper published in ‘Mind,’ (July 1877.) show how closely he observed his child. He seems to have been surprised at his own feelings for a young baby, for he wrote to Fox (July 1840): “He [i.e. the baby] is so charming that I cannot pretend to any modesty. I defy anybody to flatter us on our baby, for I defy any one to say anything in its praise of which we are not fully conscious…I had not the smallest conception there was so much in a five-month baby. You will perceive by this that I have a fine degree of paternal fervour.”

During these years he worked intermittently at ‘Coral Reefs,’ being constantly interrupted by ill health. Thus he speaks of “recommencing” the subject in February 1839, and again in the October of the same year, and once more in July 1841, “after more than thirteen months’ interval.” His other scientific work consisted of a contribution to the Geological Society (‘Geol. Soc. Proc.’ iii. 1842, and ‘Geol. Soc. Trans.’ vi), on the boulders and “till” of South America, as well as a few other minor papers on geological subjects. He also worked busily at the ornithological part of the Zoology of the Beagle, i.e. the notice of the habits and ranges of the birds which were described by Gould.]

Charles Darwin to C. Lyell.

Wednesday morning [February 1840].

My dear Lyell,

Many thanks for your kind note. I will send for the “Scotsman”. Dr. Holland thinks he has found out what is the matter with me, and now hopes he shall be able to set me going again. Is it not mortifying, it is now nine weeks since I have done a whole day’s work, and not more than four half days. But I won’t grumble any more, though it is hard work to prevent doing so. Since receiving your note I have read over my chapter on Coral, and find I am prepared to stand by almost everything; it is much more cautiously and accurately written than I thought. I had set my heart upon having my volume completed before your new edition, but not, you may believe me, for you to notice anything new in it (for there is very little besides details), but you are the one man in Europe whose opinion of the general truth of a toughish argument I should be always most anxious to hear. My MS. is in such confusion, otherwise I am sure you should most willingly if it had been worth your while, have looked at any part you choose.

[In a letter to Fox (January 1841) he shows that his “Species work” was still occupying his mind:–

“If you attend at all to Natural History I send you this P.S. as a memento, that I continue to collect all kinds of facts about ‘Varieties and Species,’ for my some-day work to be so entitled; the smallest contributions thankfully accepted; descriptions of offspring of all crosses between all domestic birds and animals, dogs, cats, etc., etc., very valuable. Don’t forget, if your half-bred African cat should die that I should be very much obliged for its carcase sent up in a little hamper for the skeleton; it, or any cross-bred pigeons, fowl, duck, etc., etc., will be more acceptable than the finest haunch of venison, or the finest turtle.”

Later in the year (September) he writes to Fox about his health, and also with reference to his plan of moving into the country:–

“I have steadily been gaining ground, and really believe now I shall some day be quite strong. I write daily for a couple of hours on my Coral volume, and take a little walk or ride every day. I grow very tired in the evenings, and am not able to go out at that time, or hardly to receive my nearest relations; but my life ceases to be burdensome now that I can do something. We are taking steps to leave London, and live about twenty miles from it on some railway.”]

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