The Life and Letters of Darwin, Volume 2 HTML version
Some idea of the general course of my father's health may have been gathered from the
letters given in the preceding pages. The subject of health appears more prominently than
is often necessary in a Biography, because it was, unfortunately, so real an element in
determining the outward form of his life.
During the last ten years of his life the condition of his health was a cause of satisfaction
and hope to his family. His condition showed signs of amendment in several particulars.
He suffered less distress and discomfort, and was able to work more steadily. Something
has been already said of Dr. Bence Jones's treatment, from which my father certainly
derived benefit. In later years he became a patient of Sir Andrew Clark, under whose care
he improved greatly in general health. It was not only for his generously rendered service
that my father felt a debt of gratitude towards Sir Andrew Clark. He owed to his cheering
personal influence an often- repeated encouragement, which laterally added something
real to his happiness, and he found sincere pleasure in Sir Andrew's friendship and
kindness towards himself and his children.
Scattered through the past pages are one or two references to pain or uneasiness felt in the
region of the heart. How far these indicate that the heart was affected early in life, I
cannot pretend to say; in any case it is certain that he had no serious or permanent trouble
of this nature until shortly before his death. In spite of the general improvement in his
health, which has been above alluded to, there was a certain loss of physical vigour
occasionally apparent during the last few years of his life. This is illustrated by a sentence
in a letter to his old friend Sir James Sulivan, written on January 10, 1879: "My scientific
work tires me more than it used to do, but I have nothing else to do, and whether one is
worn out a year or two sooner or later signifies but little."
A similar feeling is shown in a letter to Sir J.D. Hooker of June 15, 1881. My father was
staying at Patterdale, and wrote: "I am rather despondent about myself...I have not the
heart or strength to begin any investigation lasting years, which is the only thing which I
enjoy, and I have no little jobs which I can do."
In July, 1881, he wrote to Mr. Wallace, "We have just returned home after spending five
weeks on Ullswater; the scenery is quite charming, but I cannot walk, and everything
tires me, even seeing scenery...What I shall do with my few remaining years of life I can
hardly tell. I have everything to make me happy and contented, but life has become very
wearisome to me." He was, however, able to do a good deal of work, and that of a trying
sort (On the action of carbonate of ammonia on roots and leaves.), during the autumn of
1881, but towards the end of the year he was clearly in need of rest; and during the winter
was in a lower condition than was usual with him.
On December 13 he went for a week to his daughter's house in Bryanston Street. During
his stay in London he went to call on Mr. Romanes, and was seized when on the door-
step with an attack apparently of the same kind as those which afterwards became so