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

[My father's autobiographical recollections, given in the present chapter, were written for
his children,--and written without any thought that they would ever be published. To
many this may seem an impossibility; but those who knew my father will understand how
it was not only possible, but natural. The autobiography bears the heading, 'Recollections
of the Development of my Mind and Character,' and end with the following note:--
"Aug.3, 1876. This sketch of my life was begun about May 28th at Hopedene (Mr.
Hensleigh Wedgwood's house in Surrey.), and since then I have written for nearly an
hour on most afternoons." It will easily be understood that, in a narrative of a personal
and intimate kind written for his wife and children, passages should occur which must
here be omitted; and I have not thought it necessary to indicate where such omissions are
made. It has been found necessary to make a few corrections of obvious verbal slips, but
the number of such alterations has been kept down to the minimum.--F.D.]
A German Editor having written to me for an account of the development of my mind
and character with some sketch of my autobiography, I have thought that the attempt
would amuse me, and might possibly interest my children or their children. I know that it
would have interested me greatly to have read even so short and dull a sketch of the mind
of my grandfather, written by himself, and what he thought and did, and how he worked.
I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in
another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is
nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.
I was born at Shrewsbury on February 12th, 1809, and my earliest recollection goes back
only to when I was a few months over four years old, when we went to near Abergele for
sea-bathing, and I recollect some events and places there with some little distinctness.
My mother died in July 1817, when I was a little over eight years old, and it is odd that I
can remember hardly anything about her except her death- bed, her black velvet gown,
and her curiously constructed work-table. In the spring of this same year I was sent to a
day-school in Shrewsbury, where I stayed a year. I have been told that I was much slower
in learning than my younger sister Catherine, and I believe that I was in many ways a
naughty boy.
By the time I went to this day-school (Kept by Rev. G. Case, minister of the Unitarian
Chapel in the High Street. Mrs. Darwin was a Unitarian and attended Mr. Case's chapel,
and my father as a little boy went there with his elder sisters. But both he and his brother
were christened and intended to belong to the Church of England; and after his early
boyhood he seems usually to have gone to church and not to Mr. Case's. It appears ("St.
James' Gazette", Dec. 15, 1883) that a mural tablet has been erected to his memory in the
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