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

Reminiscences Of My Father's Everyday Life
It is my wish in the present chapter to give some idea of my father's everyday life. It has
seemed to me that I might carry out this object in the form of a rough sketch of a day's
life at Down, interspersed with such recollections as are called up by the record. Many of
these recollections, which have a meaning for those who knew my father, will seem
colourless or trifling to strangers. Nevertheless, I give them in the hope that they may
help to preserve that impression of his personality which remains on the minds of those
who knew and loved him--an impression at once so vivid and so untranslatable into
Of his personal appearance (in these days of multiplied photographs) it is hardly
necessary to say much. He was about six feet in height, but scarcely looked so tall, as he
stooped a good deal; in later days he yielded to the stoop; but I can remember seeing him
long ago swinging his arms back to open out his chest, and holding himself upright with a
jerk. He gave one the idea that he had been active rather than strong; his shoulders were
not broad for his height, though certainly not narrow. As a young man he must have had
much endurance, for on one of the shore excursions from the "Beagle", when all were
suffering from want of water, he was one of the two who were better able than the rest to
struggle on in search of it. As a boy he was active, and could jump a bar placed at the
height of the "Adam's apple" in his neck.
He walked with a swinging action, using a stick heavily shod with iron, which he struck
loudly against the ground, producing as he went round the "Sand-walk" at Down, a
rhythmical click which is with all of us a very distinct remembrance. As he returned from
the midday walk, often carrying the waterproof or cloak which had proved too hot, one
could see that the swinging step was kept up by something of an effort. Indoors his step
was often slow and laboured, and as he went upstairs in the afternoon he might be heard
mounting the stairs with a heavy footfall, as if each step were an effort. When interested
in his work he moved about quickly and easily enough, and often in the middle of
dictating he went eagerly into the hall to get a pinch of snuff, leaving the study door
open, and calling out the last words of his sentence as he went. Indoors he sometimes
used an oak stick like a little alpenstock, and this was a sign that he felt giddiness.
In spite of his strength and activity, I think he must always have had a clumsiness of
movement. He was naturally awkward with his hands, and was unable to draw at all well.
(The figure representing the aggregated cell- contents in 'Insectivorous Plants' was drawn
by him.) This he always regretted much, and he frequently urged the paramount necessity
of a young naturalist making himself a good draughtsman.
He could dissect well under the simple microscope, but I think it was by dint of his great
patience and carefulness. It was characteristic of him that he thought many little bits of
skilful dissection something almost superhuman. He used to speak with admiration of the
skill with which he saw Newport dissect a humble bee, getting out the nervous system
with a few cuts of a fine pair of scissors, held, as my father used to show, with the elbow