The society of Erasmus Darwin had, to my mind, much the same charm as the writings of Charles Lamb. There was the same kind of playfulness, the same lightness of touch, the same tenderness, perhaps the same limitations. On another side of his nature, I have often been reminded of him by the quaint, delicate humour, the superficial intolerance, the deep springs of pity, the peculiar mixture of something pathetic with a sort of gay scorn, entirely remote from contempt, which distinguish the Ellesmere of Sir Arthur Helps' earlier dialogues. Perhaps we recall such natures most distinctly, when such a resemblance is all that is left of them. The character is not merged in the creation; and what we lose in the power to communicate our impression, we seem to gain in its vividness. Erasmus Darwin has passed away in old age, yet his memory retains something of a youthful fragrance; his influence gave much happiness, of a kind usually associated with youth, to many lives besides the illustrious one whose records justify, though certainly they do not inspire, the wish to place this fading chaplet on his grave."
The foregoing pages give, in a fragmentary manner, as much perhaps as need be told of the family from which Charles Darwin came, and may serve as an introduction to the autobiographical chapter which follows.
[My father's autobiographical recollections, given in the present chapter, were written for his children,--and written without any thought that they would ever be published. To many this may seem an impossibility; but those who knew my father will understand how it was not only possible, but natural. The autobiography bears the heading, 'Recollections of the Development of my Mind and Character,' and end with the following note:-- "Aug.3, 1876. This sketch of my life was begun about May 28th at Hopedene (Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood's house in Surrey.), and since then I have written for nearly an hour on most afternoons." It will easily be understood that, in a narrative of a personal and intimate kind written for his wife and children, passages should occur which must here be omitted; and I have not thought it necessary to indicate where such omissions are made. It has been found necessary to make a few corrections of obvious verbal slips, but the number of such alterations has been kept down to the minimum.--F.D.]
A German Editor having written to me for an account of the development of my mind and character with some sketch of my autobiography, I have thought that the attempt would amuse me, and might possibly interest my children or their children. I know that it would have interested me greatly to have read even so short and dull a sketch of the mind of my grandfather, written by himself, and what he thought and did, and how he worked. I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.
I was born at Shrewsbury on February 12th, 1809, and my earliest recollection goes back only to when I was a few months over four years old, when we went to near Abergele for sea-bathing, and I recollect some events and places there with some little distinctness.
My mother died in July 1817, when I was a little over eight years old, and it is odd that I can remember hardly anything about her except her death- bed, her black velvet gown, and her curiously constructed work-table. In the spring of this same year I was sent to a day-school in Shrewsbury, where I stayed a year. I have been told that I was much slower in learning than my younger sister Catherine, and I believe that I was in many ways a naughty boy.
By the time I went to this day-school (Kept by Rev. G. Case, minister of the Unitarian Chapel in the High Street. Mrs. Darwin was a Unitarian and attended Mr. Case's chapel, and my father as a little boy went there with his