"He cared for all our pursuits and interests, and lived our lives with us in a way that very few fathers do. But I am certain that none of us felt that this intimacy interfered the least with our respect or obedience. Whatever he said was absolute truth and law to us. He always put his whole mind into answering any of our questions. One trifling instance makes me feel how he cared for what we cared for. He had no special taste for cats, though he admired the pretty ways of a kitten. But yet he knew and remembered the individualities of my many cats, and would talk about the habits and characters of the more remarkable ones years after they had died.

"Another characteristic of his treatment of his children was his respect for their liberty, and for their personality. Even as quite a girl, I remember rejoicing in this sense of freedom. Our father and mother would not even wish to know what we were doing or thinking unless we wished to tell. He always made us feel that we were each of us creatures whose opinions and thoughts were valuable to him, so that whatever there was best in us came out in the sunshine of his presence.

"I do not think his exaggerated sense of our good qualities, intellectual or moral, made us conceited, as might perhaps have been expected, but rather more humble and grateful to him. The reason being no doubt that the influence of his character, of his sincerity and greatness of nature, had a much deeper and more lasting effect than any small exaltation which his praises or admiration may have caused to our vanity."

As head of a household he was much loved and respected; he always spoke to servants with politeness, using the expression, "would you be so good," in asking for anything. He was hardly ever angry with his servants; it shows how seldom this occurred, that when, as a small boy, I overheard a servant being scolded, and my father speaking angrily, it impressed me as an appalling circumstance, and I remember running up stairs out of a general sense of awe. He did not trouble himself about the management of the garden, cows, etc. He considered the horses so little his concern, that he used to ask doubtfully whether he might have a horse and cart to send to Keston for Drosera, or to the Westerham nurseries for plants, or the like.

As a host my father had a peculiar charm: the presence of visitors excited him, and made him appear to his best advantage. At Shrewsbury, he used to say, it was his father's wish that the guests should be attended to constantly, and in one of the letters to Fox he speaks of the impossibility of writing a letter while the house was full of company. I think he always felt uneasy at not doing more for the entertainment of his guests, but the result was successful; and, to make up for any loss, there was the gain that the guests felt perfectly free to do as they liked. The most usual visitors were those who stayed from Saturday till Monday; those who remained longer were generally relatives, and were considered to be rather more my mother's affair than his.

Besides these visitors, there were foreigners and other strangers, who came down for luncheon and went away in the afternoon. He used conscientiously to represent to them the enormous distance of Down from London, and the labour it would be to come there, unconsciously taking for granted that they would find the journey as toilsome as he did himself. If, however, they were not deterred, he used to arrange their journeys for them, telling them when to come, and practically when to go. It was pleasant to see the way in which he shook hands with a guest who was being welcomed for the first time; his hand used to shoot out in a way that gave one the feeling that it was hastening to meet the guest's hands. With old friends his hand came down with a hearty swing into the other hand in a way I always had satisfaction in seeing. His good-bye was chiefly characterised by the pleasant way in which he thanked his guests, as he stood at the door, for having come to see him.

The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I Page 59

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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