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Darwin Correspondence Project

Henrietta Darwin's diary


DAR 247
Henrietta Darwin's diary

Charles Darwin’s daughter Henrietta wrote the following journal entries in March and July 1871 in a small lockable, leather-bound notebook now in the Darwin Archive of Cambridge University Library (DAR 247). They are published in volume 19 of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin (CUP 2012) and reproduced here with the permission of the Darwin family and of Cambridge University Press.  Her diary has been transcribed in its entirety; two pages have been excised from the notebook immediately following the last entry and one page has been excised within it, presumably by Henrietta herself.

Darwin’s letters in 1870 and 1871 (Correspondence, vols 18 and 19) reveal that Henrietta had been instrumental in the writing of Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, published that year, acting not simply as a copyeditor but also contributing to the substance and style of the argument. The two journal entries from March reflect her concerns about the consequences of her father’s theories for religious belief, which he had first published in Descent. They also reveal Henrietta’s own inclination to thoughtful scepticism; many of her arguments are reminiscent of Darwin’s own discussion of religious belief in his correspondence and in his Autobiography.

The Anglican mission in Bournemouth discussed in the first entry and attended by Henrietta’s friend and relative Emily Caroline (Lena) Langton, was advertised in a local newspaper as one of a series of Lenten missions due to take place between 26 February and 5 March 1871 in four towns within the deanery of Fordingbridge (Hampshire Advertiser, 21 January 1871, p. 7). The missions were organised by Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Winchester. Wilberforce had previously served as bishop of Oxford, and had spoken out against the arguments of Origin at the Oxford meeting of the British Association in 1860.

In the second entry, Henrietta reflects on a discussion with her cousin, Frances Julia (Snow) Wedgwood, about religion and free will in light of the theory of natural selection. Snow occasionally sent Darwin information relating to his scientific work, especially on the expression of emotion (see letters from F. J. Wedgwood to H. E. and C. R. Darwin, [1867–72],  letter nos. 7058–62). She had published a review of Origin and had written one of Descent (see letter from Charles and Emma Darwin to F. J. Wedgwood, [March 1871?], and letter from F. J. Wedgwood to H. E. Darwin, 1 April 1871). She had also recently published a short work on John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

In June 1871 Henrietta met Richard Buckley Litchfield, a barrister and lecturer in music at the London Working Men’s College, and they were married in the parish church at Down on 31 August.  The intensely personal and deeply reflective journal entries from July cover the period of their courtship.

We are grateful to William Darwin for permission to publish the text of the journal, and to the executors of Richard Darwin Keynes for access to the manuscript, deposited in the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University Library.

Henrietta Darwin | March 1871


March— Sea Grove Bournemouth

I came to the Langtons early in March & found Lena much excited about the Mission which was just over.1 Whilst it is fresh in my mind I will give an account of it. Lena & Alice M.2 were both mission women, & their office consists in going round the week before & distributing papers & talking to the people if allowed. In some cases they were treated with rudeness & refused permission to leave their papers & altogether Lena described it as a new & unpleasant sensation to pay visits in the light of a beggar. A mission, I shd premise, is a 19th. century imitation of a Wesleyan revival only that it is had to order— Two Mission priests Mr. Maclagan3 & Mr. Wilkinson4 had the bulk of the work. & v. hard it must have been. The first night of the meeting was not advertised so that only abt 15 or 20 of the immediate supporters amongst whom of course was Lena had any knowledge of it. Mr. W. spoke or preached as u like to call it & made a gt. point of this being an interposition in favour of those few who were present—a special call in fact. It was held in the schoolroom & of course everybody was unrevived, but Lena describes Mr. W. as having a definite physical effect on her. She cdn’t hear him speak without burying her face in her handkerchief & crying all the time. Whilst the Mission was in progress she wrote to me that she worshipped the ground he trod on—but now she owns that it was very dramatic & exciting but as for any ennobling effect I think in her heart she wd allow he had none. Mr. Maclagan on the other hand seems to have done a great deal more towards setting up an ideal before them of a higher life— The plan of the Mission is 3 or 4 services every day in the church with one or two sermons by the Mission priests ending with a mission meeting in the schoolroom at 7.30 where there was most of the excitement— There was a special service which began w a hymn sung kneeling. Screaming was forbidden & anybody who attempted it was to be turned out—& fits they didn’t attempt—but otherwise it must have m. resembled a Wesleyan revival—even down to the phraseology. For instance a housemaid was asked what there was between her & God   she not approving of the question answered shortly a gt many things. Lena assured me, contrary to the old Wesley experience, that the men wept & appeared to share in the impression as well as women. After the mission service was over those who stayed behind were supposed to desire a special talking to by the missioners. There were some funny scenes—one poor woman was seized hold of by two men—one on each side whispering into her ear & finding the situation intolerable she fled & was seen no more.  Miss Hollway5 was sitting by Lena & was saying in an agitated manner that she must go home to her Father who wd be waiting for her—when down came Mr. W. on his knees between them & said, No, stop now—Now is the appointed time. But she was eventually let off on a promise to reappear next day in the vestry where Lena took her & was m. gratified to find she had cried. How difficult to believe tht this really has any effect on their lives! & on the other hand if it hasn’t mustn’t it come instead of other things & so have a bad influence. That it is intense enjoyment I can well believe. I can imagine no m. intense feeling than must be felt by a heart & soul believer excited in themselves & having that wonderful contagious feeling which results from seeing yr. feelings reflected in large bodies, even if one didn’t sympathise I can perfectly understand being carried away—Laura6 likens it to a mustard plaister wh. leaves the skin the harder underneath—but I cannot tell. How little one knows of the working of other minds. It is the gt. lesson one learns— & if words & facts make such totally opposite effects on difft. minds, why shd. it be a surprise to find how my words do not affect those to whom they are addressed as they affected me. They are no picture, only a set of symbols which may be taken to represent innumerable shades of meaning. I mean them to represent one & quite other is what they represent to another mind. It is hard to remember this but how many misunderstandings & wounded feelings wd. be prevented if it was realised that to place myself in the attitude of mind of another is impossible. I can only make an approximation—& until this is done how can there be a true appreciation of conduct—or a true understanding of words.

March 26th/71

Had a long talk w Sno on education first in which Sno quoted G. Eliot apropos of fanaticism—that the question was the certainty of results.7 Then I emboldened myself to discover m. of Sno’s creed than I ever have done before. Her faith in God comes entirely from her inner nature— Now she can trace him in the character of others—but other than in herself she shd be hopeless of finding him first. The difficulty is to trace his influence in the world around— this to her is lessened by Development Theory. The making it in one whole far from making God recede brings him into an ever present attitude to the world. Sno holds that the influence of God is akin to that wh. one character exerts on another & therefore that to show the essential unity of mind & matter does not influence her views—as the influence wh. one character exerts on another may be looked at in a purely physical point of view so may God’s influence. I suppose both are forces acting & reacting. It appears to be no difficulty to Sno to believe that each particular life is ordered for its particular good although the Universe is governed by fixed laws—granted omniscience & she holds that God may make the same law work for the good of each individual. Free will she has to give up in many regions & wd be prepared to give it up entirely. The questions I wish to ask are: Is another life necessary for her conception of our life on earth? How can she shake off the bonds of reason— reason tells us plainly that each life is not ordered for its own good. The most striking example of wh. are those diseases which cause certain demoralisation. That they may be necessary consequences of general laws would be my explanation—but how if we are consider human reason as in the least worth cultivating—& if we are to believe that we have ever so faint a conception of goodness can we allow this to be for the good of the sufferer? If we say my conviction of God’s watchfulness over me is so profound even this fact cannot shake it, then if we hold to this particular good of each individual we are reduced to the dilemma—either God does not care for others, or my moral sense is given me to delude me— If goodness is known to us we must be able to recognise evil— & if Goodness is not known to us how can we recognise God— So absolutely to confound the laws of reason casts me hopelessly adrift.

If we cannot kno goodness how can we recognise in which part of our nature God is revealed— If our judgement is totally at fault in the outer world, how can we know that it is m trustworthy in the inner world. This view seems to cast what few convictions I have to the winds. What are my convictions is hard to say—but that goodness is what we ought to live for—that patience & action & a constant sense of the gt. unknowable must be our props—not v. supporting ones it will be said—but eno’ to prevent despair— one other conviction I have forgotten the worship of humanity—this I hope is only in its bud— I cd conceive a life wh. was filled & made happy by a sense of boundless love & honour & tender pity for humanity. I have in a chaotic state the feeling that this world is not created by omnipotent malevolence. I have not yet thought out on what this is founded— Can blessedness justify sin? Can happiness justify misery? What evidence have we of a future world? If there is how can virtue exist without sin? & then how is the difficulty ever to be solved.

I feel that we must act as if our wills were free— must we judge as if our wills are free? If these questions are hopeless Huxleys8 advice is good—turn our eyes from them—but do not less the preachers of science try to conceal that they are taking away what they have no equivalent for.

July 4th 1871.

How hard it is to wait—the hardest task one has to do— There seems nothing for ones will to take hold upon, for in some cases to turn your mind upon other subjects is simply impossible. How long, how long has this twelve hours been—& will it be the end? I go over every chance every possibility, in so far as I can conceive them—but come to no conclusions—not unnaturally considering the insufficiency of my data. Sometimes I wonder, like the old woman, if I be I— it seems so strange that my life & his9 are trembling now in the balance & I can laugh & talk & settle Bradshaw10 etc etc just as usual.

It is strange how a gt crisis to which one has looked forward to comes upon one in so unexpected a form that one wonders if this is really

[one page excised]

that which one has thought about.

I hope I have been worth while to my own dear people— but they are so good. Just at first my duties will be plainer— self sacrifice will be comparatively easy— There will no doubt be things to be put up with— but it will be so plain that I have got to put up with them— but afterwards let me remember that family life will stretch & exercise my whole nature. I will try to keep blessedness always & to control this crave for happiness wh. is strong in my pleasure loving nature.

To make him happy.

to guard my health for him.

not to forget that I am a social animal because I have my own little life to live— to cultivate my mind— & last to try & make up to my people for losing me— to show the gratitude I do feel—& to feel it more. I have so often been a wretch & they have loved me so. If I cannot be a good wife I have indeed neglected my 10 talents.11

July 5th. A beautiful day—rainy gleams all over the field making it look like the paradise he called it. I am glad it is fine. I want to welcome him if he comes as I think he comes. It is a happy waiting today— Time does not seem to drag its weary way along— How shd I bear it if I was still waiting— That ½ hour after the 2nd. post came in seemed so long—I don’t think the next 21 hours wd ever have gone—& then came my telegram & I feared so to find from G. Lushingtons.12 I think he must care—it can’t be only that he thinks I shd be a nice sort of person to marry.

How sweet my dear Eupha13 was. Hope14 too—but Eupha as I shd have expected the most overflowing. I think I am a very happy woman.

Sunday July 9th. 1871

I want to think why I shd like to be married in a church. I shd. feel a registry office very incomplete. I am quite sure to begin with that it is not because of other people. If no human being was ever to kno I shd still want it. My desire is purely to gratify my own instincts—for instinct I think it is not reason.

I shd not be content at that supreme moment of my life without some mark of its solemnity—some outward & visible sign of the inward & spiritual grace. What other is possible but the church service—& then I feel that its having been hallowed by time makes it a sort of inheritance— it binds me to the rest of humanity to share in the common sacred ceremony— & then of all times I shd long to feel the tie to humanity strengthened— not just at that moment to make another step in cutting myself adrift.

But if it is a false action all these reasons are less than nothing. I cannot feel it. The marriage ceremony seems to me so much wider than the church. It appeals to sentiments common to humanity & its religion is a legacy of time.

My conscience does feel clear, whether it is swayed or not by my desire to make the same vows in the same fine old language as my forefathers.

Can I vow to love honour & obey— The two last, yes. The first I think so.

Is it love when I think about him day & night— when I wonder what he thinks on every conceivable subject— when I feel my day made bright & happy by one short letter. I want him to take me in his arms & say I shall never leave him— I long for him to strike the match which is to kindle me. The fire is laid but I can’t set it alight. Could I bear to rake it out and leave the grate empty & bare again? I never never could settle down again into the same as I was before   It is too late now. I think it is for better for worse.

I can’t help grudging that all the bloom has been rubbed off. If he had walked in some Sunday what exquisite joy it wd have been—all the hopes, the fears, the twinges of joy & the happy dreams all struck down by this thunderbolt. It will not matter afterwards but I grudge to have missed it. The only thing which forces me to doubt is the difficulty I feel in looking in the face leaving my people. It will be giving it up. I can be very much—but it will not be the same. Also my fear of not being good to his relations—starting at once a full blown aunt of about 13 children is serious—especially as they are very poor—but don’t let me dread so much. I have taught myself to fear trouble. What is anything compared to being loved first.

Friday was the most miserable day. I felt too wretched to think & could only go on repeating over & over again that he felt all words of tenderness impossible & that he feared my strength. Oh if he had known under my icy manner how I longed for him just to take my hand just for one moment. How I could almost have flung myself at him to make him do it. He shd know that his having spoken makes it no easier for me to make the advances.

Monday 10th.

The more I look at it the more tremendous its seems. I try to look on a year—will it then be all the world to me to see him smile to hear his voice   10 years on how will it be when we are 50 & 40 respectively. Supposing we do not have the bond of children: supposing we have to make our own happiness— will it be enough— Can I be content to give more than he can ever return. Will he be content for my sake to put up with my unamiability—to bear with this [iron] side which it is perfectly true is in my nature. & I am selfish—even now I am thinking of myself not of him— But what a tremendous thought: that I have the life’s happiness of a human soul in my hands—& I who scarcely hope for eternity must think that it is his one chance. I do believe he loves me as not many women are loved—but tho’ he does not think me good I don’t believe he knows how far off I am— I do think I have it in me to make it worth while if he only cares about being loved. I shall tell him tomorrow that there is a possible sacrifice he might ask of me & wh. if I was good I wd grant—but as it is that it wd be too hard for me.

Tuesday 11th.

The world seems black & gloomy today. Father is very bad & I feel a wretch to think of leaving them— I am not well & there is a steady downpour which has a quite physical effect on my mind. And yet I don’t feel in such a fever & I slept this a.m. I believe what he says is the truth—I believe I have a greater capacity for loving—but does not his & my knowing this destroy the danger. He calls it the “treasure of my love” & all his words give me most strongly the impression of a man little likely to mistake or to overstate his desires— To have it felt to be a treasure would be all sufficient— I think I may say I am sure of this   If there is a vessel into wh I may pour I think this is eno’. Like a great flash of light this seems to show me where my character is most faulty— I know now how great a little fault it is to mind things so much. To let little habits constantly rise up & jar one. to mind little sacrifices to think little bothers so bothering. I do believe I can do a good deal of moral tinkering in this direction— Look great faults great deficiencies firmly steadily in the face, but for little ones to cultivate a habit of mind above & beyond I think wd be possible. If the girls & Sno could only do this. I fear I do not think the balance of right is \entirely\ on their side altho’ infinitely the larger share.

[two pages excised]


1 Edmund Langton was Henrietta’s cousin; his wife, Emily Caroline, was nicknamed Lena.

2 Alice Massingberd.

3 William Dalrymple Maclagan; Maclagan is identified as one of the mission leaders in the Hampshire Advertiser, 21 January 1871, p. 7.

4 Probably John Bourdieu Wilkinson.

5 Miss Hollway (sic) has not been identified.

6 Laura May Forster.

7 Frances Julia Wedgwood (Snow) and George Eliot. The source for Eliot’s remarks on fanaticism has not been identified.

8 Thomas Henry Huxley.

9 Richard Buckley Litchfield.

10 Bradshaw’s railway guide.

11 For the biblical parable of the talents see Matt. 25: 14–30.

12 Godfrey Lushington and Beatrice Ann Lushington.

13 Katherine Euphemia Wedgwood.

14 Hope Elizabeth Wedgwood.

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