He had something of original and sarcastically ingenious in him, one of the sincerest, naturally truest, and most modest of men; elder brother of Charles Darwin (the famed Darwin on Species of these days) to whom I rather prefer him for intellect, had not his health quite doomed him to silence and patient idleness...My dear one had a great favour for this honest Darwin always; many a road, to shops and the like, he drove her in his cab (Darwingium Cabbum comparable to Georgium Sidus) in those early days when even the charge of omnibuses was a consideration, and his sparse utterances, sardonic often, were a great amusement to her. 'A perfect gentleman,' she at once discerned him to be, and of sound worth and kindliness in the most unaffected form." (Carlyle's 'Reminiscences,' vol. ii. page 208.)
Charles Darwin did not appreciate this sketch of his brother; he thought Carlyle had missed the essence of his most lovable nature.
I am tempted by the wish of illustrating further the character of one so sincerely beloved by all Charles Darwin's children, to reproduce a letter to the "Spectator" (September 3, 1881) by his cousin Miss Julia Wedgwood.
"A portrait from Mr. Carlyle's portfolio not regretted by any who loved the original, surely confers sufficient distinction to warrant a few words of notice, when the character it depicts is withdrawn from mortal gaze. Erasmus, the only brother of Charles Darwin, and the faithful and affectionate old friend of both the Carlyles, has left a circle of mourners who need no tribute from illustrious pen to embalm the memory so dear to their hearts; but a wider circle must have felt some interest excited by that tribute, and may receive with a certain attention the record of a unique and indelible impression, even though it be made only on the hearts of those who cannot bequeath it, and with whom, therefore, it must speedily pass away. They remember it with the same distinctness as they remember a creation of genius; it has in like manner enriched and sweetened life, formed a common meeting-point for those who had no other; and, in its strong fragrance of individuality, enforced that respect for the idiosyncracies of human character without which moral judgment is always hard and shallow, and often unjust. Carlyle was one to find a peculiar enjoyment in the combination of liveliness and repose which gave his friend's society an influence at once stimulating and soothing, and the warmth of his appreciation was not made known first in its posthumous expression; his letters of anxiety nearly thirty years ago, when the frail life which has been prolonged to old age was threatened by serious illness, are still fresh in my memory. The friendship was equally warm with both husband and wife. I remember well a pathetic little remonstrance from her elicited by an avowal from Erasmus Darwin, that he preferred cats to dogs, which she felt a slur on her little 'Nero;' and the tones in which she said, 'Oh, but you are fond of dogs! you are too kind not to be,' spoke of a long vista of small, gracious kindnesses, remembered with a tender gratitude. He was intimate also with a person whose friends, like those of Mr. Carlyle, have not always had cause to congratulate themselves on their place in her gallery,--Harriet Martineau. I have heard him more than once call her a faithful friend, and it always seemed to me a curious tribute to something in the friendship that he alone supplied; but if she had written of him at all, I believe the mention, in its heartiness of appreciation, would have afforded a rare and curious meeting-point with the other 'Reminiscences,' so like and yet so unlike. It is not possible to transfer the impression of a character; we can only suggest it by means of some resemblance; and it is a singular illustration of that irony which checks or directs our sympathies, that in trying to give some notion of the man whom, among those who were not his kindred, Carlyle appears to have most loved, I can say nothing more descriptive than that he seems to me to have had something in common with the man whom Carlyle least appreciated.