Perfect confidence must always exist with regard to money matters in the home if happiness is to be ensured. No wife worth the name desires to spend one penny more in household or personal expenses than her husband can afford. A trustworthy wife has a right to know to a shilling her husband's income and expenditure. From the very first a young couple should definitely apportion their income and make up their minds to live well within it. The girl who studies a little bookkeeping and the management of a household before she marries, and who combines a knowledge of cooking with a practical understanding of marketing and choosing food, will save many pounds of her housekeeping money as a result. Looked at in the right way, house-management and economising are more interesting than any outside interest to the young wife.
The Granddaughter of Josiah "Wedgwood - Darwin's Ill-health - The Devotion of His Wife - The Simple Life of the Darwins - Forbearance Necessary for the Wife of a Scientist - A Scientist as Father - Experimenting on His Children
The history of the wives of famous men is largely that of their husbands. And few wives have lived so completely self-effaced and so entirely for the comfort of their husbands and for the furtherance of their life-work as did Mrs. Darwin. She was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, and a granddaughter of the grand old potter whose life-work has been described on page 2505, Vol. 4.
The marriage took place in 1839, and for three years they lived at 12, Upper Gower Street. They were both lovers of the country, and found town life not altogether to their liking. Constant ill-health, however, soon forced Darwin to retire to the country.
They found a secluded spot at Down, a small village of a few hundred inhabitants, sixteen miles from London between the high-roads to Westerham and Sevenoaks. The house was good, yet far from beautiful, but, altered and clothed with creeping plants, it took a firm hold on the affections of both.
Here Darwin found that outward repose so essential to his work and to his health. He was incapable of enduring strain, but nothing was so intolerable to him as idleness. He sought in work, therefore, alleviation for the sufferings of disease, and settled down for the rest of his days to a life of extreme regularity and seclusion.
A Perfect Wife
It is quite obvious that he could never have done what he did if he had married the wrong woman. But Mrs. Darwin was one of those quiet, self-effacing women who are perfectly content to live for somebody else. The whole of her life was given up to serving him, to alleviating his discomforts, and so planning his life that he was shielded from every sort of annoyance. Her constant and tender care surrounded him with a beautiful atmosphere. Without her he could never have fought to the end as he did, or completed his marvellous life-work.
The Wedgwoods were notably a family of very sweet disposition, and Mrs. Darwin was no exception. One does not hear very much about her, but one can gather a great deal from the accounts given of the life at Down. This was the quietest that could well be conceived, and was planned entirely in relation to Darwin's health and work. The day was divided up in a curious way, which would have worried any woman who wanted to live her own life. Before breakfast, which was at a quarter to eight, Darwin went for a walk. His best working time was between eight and nine-thirty, and then he went to the drawing-room, where he lay on the sofa and read his letters, and had a novel read to him by his wife for an hour. Then he worked again, took another walk, wet or fine, wrote letters, had luncheon, took two more spells of rest, worked for an hour, took another walk, and then went to bed for an hour, and was read to. His very simple supper was at seven o'clock, after which he spent a couple of hours in the drawing-room.
Mrs. Darwin so arranged her household and personal occupations that she shared every moment of rest with him, and in her presence he always found his greatest happiness. She was never too busy to be interrupted by his need for her companionship; and she seems to have borne with exemplary fortitude the presence of strange living things in the house - pots of worms on the piano for an experiment, and so on.
The evenings were very happy. Every night two games of backgammon were played, and the scores were kept for many years, a record in which Darwin took a keen interest. He was always a boy. When he lost he lamented with great bitterness, and exploded with mock anger when his wife held good cards. The great, world-famous scientist was in many ways a sort of Peter Pan - he never grew up. He loved birds'-nesting, and disguised thinly as experiments a fondness for jumping out behind doors. He never got over a fondness for sweets, and his wfe would look after him in this matter with loving sternness. She would not rest till he had promised aloud not to eat so many. If he made a " vow " to himself he did not consider it binding, but if he made it aloud he kept it - till he forgot.
He was a man of singular charm, and the guests who came to Down were well entertained. There was nothing about him of the cloud-wrapped great man, sitting silent at his table, and letting his guests feel how superior he was to them. At one end of the table sat the tall, thin man, slightly stooping, worn with ill-health, talking on every subject with ease and naturalness. He was bright and animated, and loved talk. He expressed his feelings frankly, and a kindly humour expressed his view of life. Cruelty always aroused him to indignation. He was courteous and considerate, and servants adored him. At the other end sat Mrs. Darwin, sweet-faced and gentle; quite obviously the executive genius of the household, who devoted herself to her life-work of looking after Darwin.
Conversation at that table was worth hearing. The host was not of those who jealously save up their best thoughts for paper. He talked well, and his wife was fully able to take her share, even when the conversation became scientific. She read all his proofs for him, a task which, in common with every writer, from the merest journalist upwards, he detested. He was warmly grateful for any suggestion of an improvement, and these his wife was perfectly capable of giving. She also had a very good business head, and he had a great reliance on her opinion. They were both transparently good and simple of heart.
Mr. and Mrs. Darwin both loved society, in the sense of the company of chosen friends, but his health made it impossible for him to see many people.
There were charming contests when his bad days became frequent, and Mrs. Darwin said he was to go away on a visit. He did not like leaving home, and he would bargain with his wife: " If I go quietly, can we come back on such-and-such-a day ? " But he was delightful on a holiday, surrendering himself entirely to enjoyment. These times were very precious to Mrs. Darwin, for the greatest enjoyment she could have was to spend whole days, instead of scattered hours, in the company of the wonderful and delightful man whose life she had transformed from martyrdom to quiet contentment.
As time went on he lost his pleasure in art and poetry, but he was ever keenly appreciative of scenery; and he loved music, although he did not understand it.
The garden was a great pleasure both to husband and wife. He had a charming way of personalising natural things, and talked about them as if they were beings. The very way a leaf moved became individual. A flower he loved he always touched gently.
A Scientist Father
The children, of whom there were eight altogether, were brought up to a consciousness of personal freedom. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Darwin ever wished to know what they were doing or thinking, unless they wished to tell, with the result that the family was extraordinarily united.
Mrs. Darwin had some strange moments, of course, when her husband was found trying experiments on the babies, to see which muscle they moved first when they were going to cry, or giving cherries to a five-months-old baby to watch its expression. He wrote absolutely charmingly about these experiments, but no one can read "The Expression of the Emotions " without perceiving that Mrs. Darwin needed her sense of humour. When one of the children had done something naughty, the father recorded in his notes, made at the time, that he had a guilty expression, " shown by an unnatural brightness in the eyes, and by an odd, affected manner, impossible to describe."
Mrs. Darwin was absolutely adored by her children. When a little girl of ten died, Darwin wrote that she was never easy without touching her mother when they were in bed together.
Such details as this tell us much about this perfect wife and mother. We should know more about her had she been less perfect. As it is, we see how greatly we owe to her the work she enabled Darwin to do. Without her he could never have done it. Surely this is praise enough.