This led him to be always scheming to give pleasure to others, and, though hating extravagance, to perform many generous actions. For instance, Mr. B--, a small manufacturer in Shrewsbury, came to him one day, and said he should be bankrupt unless he could at once borrow 10,000 pounds, but that he was unable to give any legal security. My father heard his reasons for believing that he could ultimately repay the money, and from [his] intuitive perception of character felt sure that he was to be trusted. So he advanced this sum, which was a very large one for him while young, and was after a time repaid.

"I suppose that it was his sympathy which gave him unbounded power of winning confidence, and as a consequence made him highly successful as a physician. He began to practise before he was twenty-one years old, and his fees during the first year paid for the keep of two horses and a servant. On the following year his practice was large, and so continued for about sixty years, when he ceased to attend on any one. His great success as a doctor was the more remarkable, as he told me that he at first hated his profession so much that if he had been sure of the smallest pittance, or if his father had given him any choice, nothing should have induced him to follow it. To the end of his life, the thought of an operation almost sickened him, and he could scarcely endure to see a person bled--a horror which he has transmitted to me--and I remember the horror which I felt as a schoolboy in reading about Pliny (I think) bleeding to death in a warm bath...

"Owing to my father's power of winning confidence, many patients, especially ladies, consulted him when suffering from any misery, as a sort of Father-Confessor. He told me that they always began by complaining in a vague manner about their health, and by practice he soon guessed what was really the matter. He then suggested that they had been suffering in their minds, and now they would pour out their troubles, and he heard nothing more about the body...Owing to my father's skill in winning confidence he received many strange confessions of misery and guilt. He often remarked how many miserable wives he had known. In several instances husbands and wives had gone on pretty well together for between twenty and thirty years, and then hated each other bitterly; this he attributed to their having lost a common bond in their young children having grown up.

"But the most remarkable power which my father possessed was that of reading the characters, and even the thoughts of those whom he saw even for a short time. We had many instances of the power, some of which seemed almost supernatural. It saved my father from ever making (with one exception, and the character of this man was soon discovered) an unworthy friend. A strange clergyman came to Shrewsbury, and seemed to be a rich man; everybody called on him, and he was invited to many houses. My father called, and on his return home told my sisters on no account to invite him or his family to our house; for he felt sure that the man was not to be trusted. After a few months he suddenly bolted, being heavily in debt, and was found out to be little better than an habitual swindler. Here is a case of trustfulness which not many men would have ventured on. An Irish gentleman, a complete stranger, called on my father one day, and said that he had lost his purse, and that it would be a serious inconvenience to him to wait in Shrewsbury until he could receive a remittance from Ireland. He then asked my father to lend him 20 pounds, which was immediately done, as my father felt certain that the story was a true one. As soon as a letter could arrive from Ireland, one came with the most profuse thanks, and enclosing, as he said, a 20 pound Bank of England note, but no note was enclosed. I asked my father whether this did not stagger him, but he answered 'not in the least.' On the next day another letter came with many apologies for having forgotten (like a true Irishman) to put the note into his letter of the day before...(A gentleman) brought his nephew, who was insane but quite gentle, to my father; and the young man's insanity led him to accuse himself of all the crimes under heaven.

The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I Page 08

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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