The Letters of Charles Darwin
doubt indeed whether humanity is a natural or innate quality. I
was very fond of collecting eggs, but I never took more than a
single egg out of a bird’s nest, except on one single occasion,
when I took all, not for their value, but from a sort of bravado.
I had a strong taste for angling, and would sit for any number of
hours on the bank of a river or pond watching the ﬂoat; when at
Maer (The hous e of his uncle, Josiah Wedgwood.) I was told that I
could kill the worms with salt and water, and from that day I
never spitted a living worm, though at the expense probably of
some loss of success.
Once as a very little boy whilst at the day school, or before
that time, I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy, I believe, simply
from enjoying the sense of power; but the beating could not have
been severe, for the puppy did not howl, of which I feel sure, as
the spot was near the house. This act lay heavily on my
conscience, as is shown by my remembering the exact spot where
the crime was committed. It probably lay all the heavier from my
love of dogs being then, and for a long time afterwards, a
passion. Dogs seemed to know this, for I was an adept in robbing
their love from their masters.
I remember clearly only one other incident during this year
whilst at Mr. Case’s daily school,–namely, the burial of a
dragoon soldier; and it is surprising how clearly I can still see
the horse with the man’s empty boots and carbine suspended to the
saddle, and the ﬁring over the grave. This scene deeply stirred
what ever poetic fancy there was in me.
In the summer of 1818 I went to Dr. Butler’s great school in
Shrewsbury, and remained there for seven years still Midsummer
1825, when I was sixteen years old. I boarded at this school, so
that I had the great advantage of living the life of a true
schoolboy; but as the distance was hardly more than a mile to my
home, I very often ran there in the longer intervals between the
callings over and before locking up at night. This, I think, was
in many ways advantageous to me by keeping up home aﬀections and
interests. I remember in the early part of my school life that I
often had to run very quickly to be in time, and from being a
ﬂeet runner was generally successful; but when in doubt I prayed
earnestly to God to help me, and I well remember that I
attributed my success to the prayers and not to my quick running,
and marvelled how generally I was aided.
I have heard my fat her and elder sister say that I had, as a very
young boy, a strong taste for long solitary walks; but what I
thought about I know not. I often became quite absorbed, and
once, whilst returning to school on the summit of the old
fortiﬁcations round Shrewsbury, which had been converted into a
public foot-path with no parapet on one side, I walked oﬀ and
fell to the ground, but the height was only seven or eight feet.
Nevertheless the number of thoughts which passed through my mind
during this very short, but sudden and wholly unexpected fall,
was astonishing, and seem hardly compatible with what
physiologists have, I believe, proved about each thought
requiring quit e an appreciable amount of time.
Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than
Dr. Butler’s school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else
being taught, except a little ancient geography and history. The