Letter 8778

Forster, L. M. to Darwin, H. E.

20 Feb 1873


Recommends a language teacher.

Remarks on expression.



Feb. 20th. 1873

My dear Harrot

I can quite recommend Plathe and think he would do your workvery well, so I will tell Ht.f1 to send his address as I have not gothis new one. I know tho’ that he is near Mrs. Nassau Senior & Ibelieve he teaches daily at her house, so a note to her carewould reach him.f2 He is not my ideal master because I like astupid well informed man to be a perfect tool in my hands when Iam learng. a language, but such a one would have taught menothing under 12 and I doubt whether any untrained mind cansupply all the energy necessary to conquer a language. I meanthat if I were now learning a language for the 1st. time I thinkPlathe wd. teach me better than the patient plodr. for he whowas content to unravel my difficulties in the order & shape inwhich I put them before him & from whom I learnt more inconsequence than from any master I ever had. Plathe is overflowing with good nature & is clever energetic & oftenoriginal—a great talker and keenly interested in every thingthat comes before him & I fancy if he had time your’s is the sortof work he would take for love. He is blessed such good health &spirits that he is a most unflagging goer & I fancy is the kind ofman to enliven men tired with their monotonous works. I hopeRichard wont over do himself, but I believe you are right to lethim try the works—one must not hoard one’s valuables tho’ itis such a temptation to do it that I think you very good forresisting.f3

I wanted to write to you but have quite exhausted myself latelyin Wedgwood, Whitaker & Clapham directions.f4 I am so often askedfor advice & I never have any to give, & even my opinions are asort of inverted Descent of man & I can only shew theirgt.gt. grandparents & let other people deduct their owndogmas. If I could but keep a stock of the latter ready to handit would save me such a lot of trouble. Whether to marry & whaton earth to do when you are married are subjects to drive an oldmaid mad when driven in a pair.f5 It’s quite a relief to turn toWillie & write about pigeons & snipes, Scotch Collies and patentaxles.f6

I have been a good deal interested by Fawcett’s Britsh.labourer.f7 Have you read it? A series of lectures written 8 or 10 years back & pubd. then & foretelling some of the presentdifficulties to a curious extent it seems to me.

I dont think I told you how strongly I was reminded of one ofmy Cannes boatmen by the bit in the expression book about shewingthe teeth in anger—f8 I cannot fancy a stronger instance of it;we were talking of the war & I was drawing the men out & ratherbaiting them with a careless sort of pity for the exiled Empr.,a dark Italian looking man got increasingly fierce & scowling &said it was his own fault he was an exile—why did he notreturn, the traitor! to answer for his deeds like a man?f9 I said12 mockingly still, that was the last thing I blamed him for &I put it to the man what sort of a welcome he individually wouldgive him? I declare tho’ I heard no word of his answer itfrightened me out of all jesting, he drew back & up the corners ofhis mouth till I saw every tooth in his head and to illustratewhat he was sayg. he clashed his teeth together so that myimpression was he would fly at the Empr.’s throat like abulldog. I was thoroughly frightened & yet so curious to knowwhether he really said what he acted, the whole boat was betweenus as he growled out the few words, that I asked him agn. whathe would do shewg. I did not catch his meaning, he had beenresting on his oars but then he pulled them in & using his handsto express his meaning with a savage grin “je lui torderais lecou comme ça”f10 giving a twist with his hands & shewd. histeeth, but not clashing them as before. Somehow that seemed morehuman & I did not mind it so much, but the 1st. action with theteeth was appalling & I felt as if in danger from a wild beast.Even the milder edition expressed too much feeling for my taste& much as I like to study character I did not go out with myfriends again. I felt as if I had played with edged tools & evenat this time, after the lapse of a year to soften & soberimpressions I cannot resist the conviction that I could chaffthat man into drowning me, were he & I alone in a boat. I haveoften had to do with bad tempers & rough men but had no ideabefore how they might frighten me. I think that unconsciouslyboth the man & I must have identified myself with the Empr. sothat a portion of his wrath hit me as it were. So when I fancymyself tossing about in sunshine on the Medr. or think how wellit wd. make me, it is with the light hearted brothers Lambert,etat 10 and 20, whose greatest excitet. was racing a steamboat& their highest ambition to teach me to fish by torch light.f11 I amglad yr. boys are betterf12   The Langtons are delayed here by theold man not being well but they hope to go in a few days—f13

I am getting on very well, & am so glad H’s visit was sosuccessful— Yr. most affect | L M F.

Mrs N Senior’s address is Lavender Hill Clapm. Comn.— but Iam writg a card to Hettaf14

DAR 164: 159



Probably Henrietta Louisa Synnot (see nn. 4 and 14, below).
Forster refers to Jane Elizabeth Senior. Plathe has not beenidentified.
Henrietta’s husband, Richard Buckley Litchfield, wasserving as both vice-principal and secretary of the Working Men’sCollege during a period of restructuring (R. B. Litchfield, Record,personal and domestic, vol. 1 (DAR 248/1: 17–18)).
Forster was a close friend of Katherine Euphemia Wedgwood (Effie)and Hope Wedgwood; Marianne Thornton, Forster’s aunt, and her cousinHenrietta Synnot lived in Clapham (L. M. Forster, ‘Journal’, ff. 26and 29 (King’s College Cambridge, PP/EMF/22 vol. 3/10));L. M. Forster, ‘Recollections’, p. 171 (King’s College Cambridge,PP/EMF/22 vol. 4/7)). Whitaker has not been identified.
Effie Wedgwood’s engagement to Thomas Henry Farrer was announced inFebruary 1873 (R. B. Litchfield, Record, personal and domestic, vol. 1(DAR 248/1: 18)).
Forster probably refers to her brother William Howley Forster.
Forster refers to Henry Fawcett’s book, The economic position ofthe British labourer (Fawcett 1865).
See Expression, pp. 12, 243–6. Annotations in Henrietta’s hand indicate that she forwarded the letter to CD anddirected his attention to this paragraph.
Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III), former emperor of France, was livingin exile in England (EB).
Je lui torderais le cou comme ça: I would wring his neck like this(French).
The Lambert brothers have not been identified; ‘etat’ is amisspelling of ‘aetat.’, a common abbreviation for aetatis (Latin),meaning ‘aged’.
Forster probably refers to Henrietta’s brothers. George HowardDarwin had been unwell in January (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Forster refers to Edmund and Emily Caroline Langton, andEdmund’s father, Charles Langton.
Forster probably refers to her cousin Henrietta Synnot, aneighbour of Senior’s (see n. 4, above).
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