Autobiography of Charles Darwin HTML version

chapel, which is now known as the 'Free Christian Church.') my taste for natural history,
and more especially for collecting, was well developed. I tried to make out the names of
plants (Rev. W.A. Leighton, who was a schoolfellow of my father's at Mr. Case's school,
remembers his bringing a flower to school and saying that his mother had taught him how
by looking at the inside of the blossom the name of the plant could be discovered. Mr.
Leighton goes on, "This greatly roused my attention and curiosity, and I enquired of him
repeatedly how this could be done?"--but his lesson was naturally enough not
transmissible.--F.D.), and collected all sorts of things, shells, seals, franks, coins, and
minerals. The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a
virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters
or brother ever had this taste.
One little event during this year has fixed itself very firmly in my mind, and I hope that it
has done so from my conscience having been afterwards sorely troubled by it; it is
curious as showing that apparently I was interested at this early age in the variability of
plants! I told another little boy (I believe it was Leighton, who afterwards became a well-
known lichenologist and botanist), that I could produce variously coloured polyanthuses
and primroses by watering them with certain coloured fluids, which was of course a
monstrous fable, and had never been tried by me. I may here also confess that as a little
boy I was much given to inventing deliberate falsehoods, and this was always done for
the sake of causing excitement. For instance, I once gathered much valuable fruit from
my father's trees and hid it in the shrubbery, and then ran in breathless haste to spread the
news that I had discovered a hoard of stolen fruit.
I must have been a very simple little fellow when I first went to the school. A boy of the
name of Garnett took me into a cake shop one day, and bought some cakes for which he
did not pay, as the shopman trusted him. When we came out I asked him why he did not
pay for them, and he instantly answered, "Why, do you not know that my uncle left a
great sum of money to the town on condition that every tradesman should give whatever
was wanted without payment to any one who wore his old hat and moved [it] in a
particular manner?" and he then showed me how it was moved. He then went into
another shop where he was trusted, and asked for some small article, moving his hat in
the proper manner, and of course obtained it without payment. When we came out he
said, "Now if you like to go by yourself into that cake-shop (how well I remember its
exact position) I will lend you my hat, and you can get whatever you like if you move the
hat on your head properly." I gladly accepted the generous offer, and went in and asked
for some cakes, moved the old hat and was walking out of the shop, when the shopman
made a rush at me, so I dropped the cakes and ran for dear life, and was astonished by
being greeted with shouts of laughter by my false friend Garnett.
I can say in my own favour that I was as a boy humane, but I owed this entirely to the
instruction and example of my sisters. I 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.