The house stands very badly, close to a tiny lane and near another man's field. Our field is 15 acres and flat, looking into flat-bottomed valleys on both sides, but no view from the drawing- room, which faces due south, except on our flat field and bits of rather ugly distant horizon. Close in front there are some old (very productive) cherry trees, walnut trees, yew, Spanish chestnut, pear, old larch, Scotch fir and silver fir and old mulberry trees, [which] make rather a pretty group. They give the ground an old look, but from not flourishing much they also give it rather a desolate look. There are quinces and medlars and plums with plenty of fruit, and Morello cherries; but few apples. The purple magnolia flowers against the house. There is a really fine beech in view in our hedge. The kitchen garden is a detestable slip and the soil looks wretched from the quantity of chalk flints, but I really believe it is productive. The hedges grow well all round our field, and it is a noted piece of hayland. This year the crop was bad, but was bought, as it stood, for 2 pounds per acre--that is 30 pounds--the purchaser getting it in. Last year it was sold for 45 pounds--no manure was put on in the interval. Does not this sound well? Ask my father. Does the mulberry and magnolia show it is not very cold in winter, which I fear is the case? Tell Susan it is 9 miles from Knole Park and 6 from Westerham, at which places I hear the scenery is beautiful. There are many very odd views round our house-- deepish flat-bottomed valley and nice farm-house, but big, white, ugly, fallow fields;--much wheat grown here. House ugly, looks neither old nor new--walls two feet thick--windows rather small--lower story rather low. Capital study 18 x 18. Dining-room 21 x 18. Drawing-room can easily be added to: is 21 x 15. Three stories, plenty of bedrooms. We could hold the Hensleighs and you and Susan and Erasmus all together. House in good repair. Mr. Cresy a few years ago laid out for the owner 1,500 pounds and made a new roof. Water-pipes over house--two bath-rooms--pretty good offices and good stable-yard, etc., and a cottage. I believe the price is about 2,200 pounds, and I have no doubt I shall get it for one year on lease first to try, so that I shall do nothing to the house at first (last owner kept three cows, one horse, and one donkey, and sold some hay annually from one field). I have no doubt if we complete the purchase I shall at least save 1,000 pounds over Westcroft, or any other house we have seen. Emma was at first a good deal disappointed, and at the country round the house; the day was gloomy and cold with N.E. wind. She likes the actual field and house better than I; the house is just situated as she likes for retirement, not too near or too far from other houses, but she thinks the country looks desolate. I think all chalk countries do, but I am used to Cambridgeshire, which is ten times worse. Emma is rapidly coming round. She was dreadfully bad with toothache and headache in the evening and Friday, but in coming back yesterday she was so delighted with the scenery for the first few miles from Down, that it has worked a great change in her. We go there again the first fine day Emma is able, and we then finally settle what to do.
(12/2. The following fragmentary "Account of Down" was found among Mr. Darwin's papers after the publication of the "Life and Letters." It gives the impression that he intended to write a natural history diary after the manner of Gilbert White, but there is no evidence that this was actually the case.)
1843. May 15th.--The first peculiarity which strikes a stranger unaccustomed to a hilly chalk country is the valleys, with their steep rounded bottoms--not furrowed with the smallest rivulet. On the road to Down from Keston a mound has been thrown across a considerable valley, but even against this mound there is no appearance of even a small pool of water having collected after the heaviest rains. The water all percolates straight downwards.