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Darwin Correspondence Project

1.13 Louisa Nash, drawing

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This sketch portrait of Darwin was drawn by Louisa A‘hmuty Nash as a memento of her friendship with the Darwin family and a token of her unbounded admiration and affection for Darwin himself.  She and her husband, the lawyer Wallis Nash, lived in the village of Downe in the mid-1870s, and both subsequently published accounts of their impressions of Darwin. For Louisa, ‘the truth is that there was such a sweet, childlike simplicity about that great man that one forgot that he was great’. Though absorbed in his researches, Darwin was always philanthropic and kind to the Downe villagers – ‘The poor blessed him’ – and his family life was a model of harmony. It is clear that the Nashes shared the Darwins’ charitable involvement in local community projects. A letter from Emma Darwin to Revd John Brodie Innes in December 1875, bringing him up to date with Downe news, explained, ‘We have also a band of Hope under Mrs Nash’s superintendence’ – that is, a club for children that instructed them on the dangers of drink. Reading the Nashes’ fond, idealising recollections of this ‘old-world place’, one would not guess that they lost four of their children while living there – three of them died from scarlet fever. It was principally this tragedy that prompted the couple to emigrate to Oregon in 1878. In a letter to Wallis Nash deploring their departure, Darwin wrote, ‘no one has ever come to live near Down, whom we have liked and respected in at all the same degree as we do from our hearts Mrs Nash and yourself’. 

Louisa Nash’s profile drawing of Darwin is closely similar to one of Rejlander’s photographs of him, taken a few years earlier, but her intimate relationship with the Darwin family suggests that it may have been drawn from life. If so, she evidently took it with her when she and her husband departed for the United States. R.B. Freeman, in Charles Darwin: A Companion (1978), noted that it had ‘never been reproduced and is still in the Nash family’. He had acquired a photograph of it, which he donated to the National Portrait Gallery, London, also in 1978. According to a faint pencil inscription on the back of the photograph, the latest known owner of the drawing was Louisa Nash’s granddaughter, living in Corvallis, Oregon. Its present whereabouts are unknown to the author of this record. 

  • physical location unknown, in the collection of a Nash descendant. Photograph in the National Portrait Gallery archive (in the sitter image file for Charles Darwin) 

  • accession or collection number unknown 

  • copyright holder (of the photograph) National Portrait Gallery, London 

  • originator of image Louisa A’hmuty Nash. Signed ‘L.A’hN’. 

  • date of creation c.1873–1878 

  • computer-readable date 1873-01-01 to 1878-03-01 

  • medium and material (of the original) apparently brush and indian ink washes 

  • references and bibliography letter from Emma Darwin to Revd. Innes, 24 Dec. [1875], DCP-LETT-10732. Letter from Darwin to Wallis Nash, 27 March 1878, DCP-LETT-11450A, granting Nash’s request to dedicate his book, Oregon: There and Back in 1877 (London: Macmillan, 1878) to Darwin; the letter is in the possession of Patricia Nash. Wallis Nash, A Lawyer’s Life on Two Continents (Boston, 1919), ch. xiv, ‘Charles Darwin – a personal sketch’. Laura A. Nash, ‘Some memories of Charles Darwin’, Overland Monthly, San Francisco, 77:5 (May 1921), pp. 26–29: this was a reprint of her earlier article in the same journal: 16:94 (Oct. 1890), pp. 404–408. Richard B. Freeman, Charles Darwin, A Companion (1978 and later editions), at Darwin Online: entry for Louisa A’hmuty Nash (her middle name is wrongly given as Ann). Letter of 26 April 1978 from Freeman to the National Portrait Gallery, enclosing the photograph of Nash’s drawing of Darwin, and the Registrar’s letter of thanks; both are kept in registered packet 3144, which is a collection of data on Marian Collier’s drawing of Darwin. Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place: Volume II of a Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), pp. 484, 485.  


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