« VorigeDoorgaan »
advantage. At Shrewsbury, he used to say, it was his father's wish that the guests should be attended to constantly, and in one of the letters to Fox he speaks of the impossibility of writing a letter while the house was full of company. I think he always felt uneasy at not doing more for the entertainment of his guests, but the result was successful; and, to make up for any loss, there was the gain that the guests felt perfectly free to do as they liked. The most usual visitors were those who stayed from Saturday till Monday; those who remained longer were generally relatives, and were considered to be rather more my mother's affair than his.
Besides these visitors, there were foreigners and other strangers, who came down for luncheon and went away in the afternoon. He used conscientiously to represent to them the enormous distance of Down from London, and the labour it would be to come there, unconsciously taking for granted that they would find the journey as toilsome as he did himself. If, however, they were not deterred, he used to arrange their journeys for them, telling them when to come, and practically when to go. It was pleasant to see the way in which he shook hands with a guest who was being welcomed for the first time; his hand used to shoot out in a way that gave one the feeling that it was hastening to meet the guest's hands. With old friends his hand came down with a hearty swing into the other hand in a way I always had satisfaction in seeing. His good-bye was chiefly characterised by the pleasant way in which he thanked his guests, as he stood at the door, for having come to see him.
These luncheons were very successful entertainments, there was no drag or flagging about them, my father was bright and excited throughout the whole visit. Professor De Candolle has described a visit to Down, in his admirable and sympathetic sketch of my father.* He speaks of his manner as resembling that of a “savant" of Oxford or Cambridge.
* * Darwin considéré au point de vue des causes de son succès.' Geneva, 1882.
This does not strike me as quite a good comparison; in his ease and naturalness there was more of the manner of some soldiers; a manner arising from total absence of pretence or affectation. It was this absence of pose, and the natural and simple way in which he began talking to his guests, so as to get them on their own lines, which made him so charming a host to a stranger. His happy choice of matter for talk seemed to flow out of his sympathetic nature, and humble, vivid interest in other people's work.
To some, I think, he caused actual pain by his modesty ; I have seen the late Francis Balfour quite discomposed by having knowledge ascribed to himself on a point about which my father claimed to be utterly ignorant.
It is difficult to seize on the characteristics of my father's conversation.
He had more dread than have most people of repeating his stories, and continually said, “You must have heard me tell,” or “I dare say I've told you." One peculiarity he had, which gave a curious effect to his conversation. The first few words of a sentence would often remind him of some exception to, or some reason against, what he was going to say; and this again brought up some other point, so that the sentence would become a system of parenthesis within parenthesis, and it was often impossible to understand the drift of what he was saying until he came to the end of his sentence. He used to say of himself that he was not quick enough to hold an argument with any one, and I think this was true. Unless it was a subject on which he was just then at work, he could not get the train of argument into working order quickly enough. This is shown even in his letters ; thus, in the case of two letters to Prof. Semper about the effect of isolation, he did not recall the series of facts he wanted until some days after the first letter had been sent off.
When puzzled in talking, he had a peculiar stammer on the first word of a sentence. I only recall this occurring with words beginning with w; possibly he had a special difficulty with this letter, for I have heard him say that as a boy he could not pronounce w, and that sixpence was offered him if he could say “white wine," which he pronounced "rite rine.” Possibly he may have inherited this tendency from Erasmus Darwin, who stammered.*
He sometimes combined his metaphors in a curious way, using such a phrase as “holding on like life,”—a mixture of "holding on for his life," and "holding on like grim death." It came from his eager way of putting emphasis into what he was saying. This sometimes gave an air of exaggeration where it was not intended; but it gave, too, a noble air of strong and generous conviction; as, for instance, when he gave his evidence before the Royal Commission on vivisection and came out with his words about cruelty, “It deserves detestation and abhorrence.” When he felt strongly about any similar question, he could hardly trust himself to speak, as he then easily became angry, a thing which he disliked excessively. He was conscious that his anger had a tendency to multiply itself in the utterance, and for this reason dreaded (for example) having to scold a servant.
It was a great proof of the modesty of his style of talking, that, when, for instance, a number of visitors came over from Sir John Lubbock's for a Sunday afternoon call he never seemed to be preaching or lecturing, although he had so much of the talk to himself. He was particularly charming when “chaffing” any one, and in high spirits over it. His manner at such times was light-hearted and boyish, and his refinement of nature came out most strongly. So, when he was talking to a lady who pleased and amused him, the combination of raillery and deference in his manner was delightful to see.
When my father had several guests he managed them well, getting a talk with each, or bringing two or three together
* My father related a Johnsonian answer of Erasmus Darwin's : " Don't you find it very inconvenient stammering, Dr. Darwin?” “No, sir, because I have time to think before I speak, and don't ask impertinent ques
round his chair. In these conversations there was always a good deal of fun, and, speaking generally, there was either a humorous turn in his talk, or a sunny geniality which served instead. Perhaps my recollection of a pervading element of humour is the more vivid, because the best talks were with Mr. Huxley, in whom there is the aptness which is akin to humour, even when humour itself is not there. My father enjoyed Mr. Huxley's humour exceedingly, and would often say, “What splendid fun Huxley is !” I think he probably had more scientific argument (of the nature of a fight) with Lyell and Sir Joseph Hooker.
He used to say that it grieved him to find that for the friends of his later life he had not the warm affection of his youth. Certainly in his early letters from Cambridge he gives proofs of very strong friendship for Herbert and Fox; but no one except himself would have said that his affection for his friends was not, throughout life, of the warmest possible kind. In serving a friend he would not spare himself, and precious time and strength were willingly given. He undoubtedly had, to an unusual degree, the power of attaching his friends to him. He had many warm friendships, but to Sir Joseph Hooker he was bound by ties of affection stronger than we often see among men. He wrote in his 'Recollections,' “I have known hardly any man more lovable than Hooker."
His relationship to the village people was a pleasant one; he treated them, one and all, with courtesy, when he came in contact with them, and took an interest in all relating to their welfare. Some time after he came to live at Down he helped to found a Friendly Club, and served as treasurer for thirty years. He took much trouble about the club, keeping its accounts with minute and scrupulous exactness, and taking pleasure in its prosperous condition. Every WhitMonday the club used to march round with band and banner, and paraded on the lawn in front of the house. There he met them, and explained to them their financial position in a little speech seasoned with a few well worn jokes. He was often
* * * *
unwell enough to make even this little ceremony an exertion, but I think he never failed to meet them.
He was also treasurer of the Coal Club, which gave him some work, and he acted for some years as a County Magistrate.
With regard to my father's interest in the affairs of the village, Mr. Brodie Innes has been so good as to give me his recollections :
"On my becoming Vicar of Down in 1846, we became friends, and so continued till his death. His conduct towards me and my family was one of unvarying kindness, and we repaid it by warm affection.
"In all parish matters he was an active assistant; in matters connected with the schools, charities, and other business, his liberal contribution was ever ready, and in the differences which at times occurred in that, as in other parishes, I was always sure of his support. He held that where there was really no important objection, his assistance should be given to the clergyman, who ought to know the circumstances best, and was chiefly responsible."
*1 W Winwisse
His intercourse with strangers was marked with scrupulous and rather formal politeness, but in fact he had few opportunities of meeting strangers.
Dr. Lane has described * how, on the rare occasion of my father attending a lecture (Dr. Sanderson's) at the Royal Institution, “ the whole assembly ... rose to their feet to welcome him," while he seemed “scarcely conscious that such an outburst of applause could possibly be intended for himself." The quiet life he led at Down made him feel confused in a large society ; for instance, at the Royal Society's soirées he felt oppressed by the numbers. The feeling that he ought to know people, and the difficulty he had in remembering faces in his latter years, also added to his discomfort on
* Lecture by Dr. B. W. Richardson, in St. George's Hall, Oct. 22, 1882.