The Life and Letters of Darwin, Vol. 1 HTML version

Life At Down
"My life goes on like clockwork, and I am fixed on the spot where I shall end it."
Letter to Captain Fitz-Roy, October, 1846.
[With the view of giving in the following chapters a connected account of the growth of
the 'Origin of Species,' I have taken the more important letters bearing on that subject out
of their proper chronological position here, and placed them with the rest of the
correspondence bearing on the same subject; so that in the present group of letters we
only get occasional hints of the growth of my father's views, and we may suppose
ourselves to be looking at his life, as it might have been looked at by those who had no
knowledge of the quiet development of his theory of evolution during this period.
On September 14, 1842, my father left London with his family and settled at Down. (I
must not omit to mention a member of the household who accompanied him. This was
his butler, Joseph Parslow, who remained in the family, a valued friend and servant, for
forty years, and became as Sir Joseph Hooker once remarked to me, "an integral part of
the family, and felt to be such by all visitors at the house.") In the Autobiographical
chapter, his motives for taking this step in the country are briefly given. He speaks of the
attendance at scientific societies, and ordinary social duties, as suiting his health so
"badly that we resolved to live in the country, which we both preferred and have never
repented of." His intention of keeping up with scientific life in London is expressed in a
letter to Fox (December, 1842):--
"I hope by going up to town for a night every fortnight or three weeks, to keep up my
communication with scientific men and my own zeal, and so not to turn into a complete
Kentish hog."
Visits to London of this kind were kept up for some years at the cost of much exertion on
his part. I have often heard him speak of the wearisome drives of ten miles to or from
Croydon or Sydenham--the nearest stations-- with an old gardener acting as coachman,
who drove with great caution and slowness up and down the many hills. In later years, all
regular scientific intercourse with London became, as before mentioned, an impossibility.
The choice of Down was rather the result of despair than of actual preference; my father
and mother were weary of house-hunting, and the attractive points about the place thus
seemed to them to counterbalance its somewhat more obvious faults. It had at least one
desideratum, namely quietness. Indeed it would have been difficult to find a more retired
place so near to London. In 1842 a coach drive of some twenty miles was the only means
of access to Down; and even now that railways have crept closer to it, it is singularly out
of the world, with nothing to suggest the neighbourhood of London, unless it be the dull
haze of smoke that sometimes clouds the sky. The village stands in an angle between two