For instance, he used to read nearly the whole of 'Nature,' though so much of it deals with mathematics and physics. I have often heard him say that he got a kind of satisfaction in reading articles which (according to himself) he could not understand. I wish I could reproduce the manner in which he would laugh at himself for it.

It was remarkable, too, how he kept up his interest in subjects at which he had formerly worked. This was strikingly the case with geology. In one of his letters to Mr. Judd he begs him to pay him a visit, saying that since Lyell's death he hardly ever gets a geological talk. His observations, made only a few years before his death, on the upright pebbles in the drift at Southampton, and discussed in a letter to Mr. Geikie, afford another instance. Again, in the letters to Dr. Dohrn, he shows how his interest in barnacles remained alive. I think it was all due to the vitality and persistence of his mind--a quality I have heard him speak of as if he felt that he was strongly gifted in that respect. Not that he used any such phrases as these about himself, but he would say that he had the power of keeping a subject or question more or less before him for a great many years. The extent to which he possessed this power appears when we consider the number of different problems which he solved, and the early period at which some of them began to occupy him.

It was a sure sign that he was not well when he was idle at any times other than his regular resting hours; for, as long as he remained moderately well, there was no break in the regularity of his life. Week-days and Sundays passed by alike, each with their stated intervals of work and rest. It is almost impossible, except for those who watched his daily life, to realise how essential to his well-being was the regular routine that I have sketched: and with what pain and difficulty anything beyond it was attempted. Any public appearance, even of the most modest kind, was an effort to him. In 1871 he went to the little village church for the wedding of his elder daughter, but he could hardly bear the fatigue of being present through the short service. The same may be said of the few other occasions on which he was present at similar ceremonies.

I remember him many years ago at a christening; a memory which has remained with me, because to us children it seemed an extraordinary and abnormal occurrence. I remember his look most distinctly at his brother Erasmus's funeral, as he stood in the scattering of snow, wrapped in a long black funeral cloak, with a grave look of sad reverie.

When, after an interval of many years, he again attended a meeting of the Linnean Society, it was felt to be, and was in fact, a serious undertaking; one not to be determined on without much sinking of heart, and hardly to be carried into effect without paying a penalty of subsequent suffering. In the same way a breakfast-party at Sir James Paget's, with some of the distinguished visitors to the Medical Congress (1881), was to him a severe exertion.

The early morning was the only time at which he could make any effort of the kind, with comparative impunity. Thus it came about that the visits he paid to his scientific friends in London were by preference made as early as ten in the morning. For the same reason he started on his journeys by the earliest possible train, and used to arrive at the houses of relatives in London when they were beginning their day.

He kept an accurate journal of the days on which he worked and those on which his ill health prevented him from working, so that it would be possible to tell how many were idle days in any given year. In this journal--a little yellow Lett's Diary, which lay open on his mantel-piece, piled on the diaries of previous years--he also entered the day on which he started for a holiday and that of his return.

The most frequent holidays were visits of a week to London, either to his brother's house (6 Queen Anne Street), or to his daughter's (4 Bryanston Street).

The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I Page 54

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book