With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that I should have influenced to a considerable extent the belief of scientific men on some important points.



It is my wish in the present chapter to give some idea of my father's everyday life. It has seemed to me that I might carry out this object in the form of a rough sketch of a day's life at Down, interspersed with such recollections as are called up by the record. Many of these recollections, which have a meaning for those who knew my father, will seem colourless or trifling to strangers. Nevertheless, I give them in the hope that they may help to preserve that impression of his personality which remains on the minds of those who knew and loved him--an impression at once so vivid and so untranslatable into words.

Of his personal appearance (in these days of multiplied photographs) it is hardly necessary to say much. He was about six feet in height, but scarcely looked so tall, as he stooped a good deal; in later days he yielded to the stoop; but I can remember seeing him long ago swinging his arms back to open out his chest, and holding himself upright with a jerk. He gave one the idea that he had been active rather than strong; his shoulders were not broad for his height, though certainly not narrow. As a young man he must have had much endurance, for on one of the shore excursions from the "Beagle", when all were suffering from want of water, he was one of the two who were better able than the rest to struggle on in search of it. As a boy he was active, and could jump a bar placed at the height of the "Adam's apple" in his neck.

He walked with a swinging action, using a stick heavily shod with iron, which he struck loudly against the ground, producing as he went round the "Sand-walk" at Down, a rhythmical click which is with all of us a very distinct remembrance. As he returned from the midday walk, often carrying the waterproof or cloak which had proved too hot, one could see that the swinging step was kept up by something of an effort. Indoors his step was often slow and laboured, and as he went upstairs in the afternoon he might be heard mounting the stairs with a heavy footfall, as if each step were an effort. When interested in his work he moved about quickly and easily enough, and often in the middle of dictating he went eagerly into the hall to get a pinch of snuff, leaving the study door open, and calling out the last words of his sentence as he went. Indoors he sometimes used an oak stick like a little alpenstock, and this was a sign that he felt giddiness.

In spite of his strength and activity, I think he must always have had a clumsiness of movement. He was naturally awkward with his hands, and was unable to draw at all well. (The figure representing the aggregated cell- contents in 'Insectivorous Plants' was drawn by him.) This he always regretted much, and he frequently urged the paramount necessity of a young naturalist making himself a good draughtsman.

He could dissect well under the simple microscope, but I think it was by dint of his great patience and carefulness. It was characteristic of him that he thought many little bits of skilful dissection something almost superhuman. He used to speak with admiration of the skill with which he saw Newport dissect a humble bee, getting out the nervous system with a few cuts of a fine pair of scissors, held, as my father used to show, with the elbow raised, and in an attitude which certainly would render great steadiness necessary. He used to consider cutting sections a great feat, and in the last year of his life, with wonderful energy, took the pains to learn to cut sections of roots and leaves. His hand was not steady enough to hold the object to be cut, and he employed a common microtome, in which the pith for holding the object was clamped, and the razor slid on a glass surface in making the sections. He used to laugh at himself, and at his own skill in section-cutting, at which he would say he was "speechless with admiration." On the other hand, he must have had accuracy of eye and power of co-ordinating his movements, since he was a good shot with a gun as a young man, and as a boy was skilful in throwing.

The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I Page 45

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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