I intended to post the second part of this series last month. Alas, my short story collection editing took up most of my time. Back in June, I visited my poet-friend Angelika at her new home in Surrey, England. This mini blog post series chronicles the writers’ homes we visited during my stay. If you missed the first post, check out Virginia Woolf’s house and then read on below for Darwin’s.
Our visit to Charles Darwin’s house, also known as Down House, almost didn’t happen because I was too scared of the roads that lead there. Angelika had visited Darwin’s home over the winter and had told me how frightened she had been on the narrow country roads. There isn’t a shoulder, there isn’t enough room for two cars to pass each other at the same time, and the edges of the road are either walls of dirt, rocks, or crops. When she described her journey there, I thought the visit may not be worth the hassle. But it was.
The roads were scary. Somehow, cars larger than Angelika’s (VW Golf) and those moving faster than us were able to stay on the road without colliding with each other. Growing up on Long Island, I was used to seeing all sorts of driving near home and in the city (read: Manhattan), it all looked normal to me. It’s how I imagine the normalcy Englanders have with their windy country roads yet these roads remain anxiety-inducing to me.
Not only was Charles Darwin’s home a huge interesting place, but the grounds were even more inspiring. A few highlights:
Darwin never had a “real” job. His father gave him a large sum of money when he was young and Darwin used it to travel the world and gather research for what would become On the Origin of Species. It’s not like the money lasted all his life. He invested the money in farms and other endeavors and lived off the income produced by his investments. (Writers might learn a lesson from this if they want to have income-producing property or assets that could allow them the financial means to spend their time writing.)
A walking trail for creative thought. Darwin had a flat trail that meandered along pastures and into the woods. He would wander the trails in between writing. Contemporary research, such as this work done at Stanford on walking and creativity, shows that “creative thinking improves while walking and shortly thereafter.”
Darwin was a beekeeper too. I noticed a hive in a meadow but learned that the hive they usually maintain didn’t make it through the winter. (England had a brutally cold winter this past year.) However, they did have an observation hive in the greenhouse.
This home, partially converted into a museum, gift shop, and coffee shop, was peppered with interesting anecdotes about the time Darwin lived there. For instance, mail service would come twice per day during his time. While writers didn’t have email or instantaneous means back then of learning about the publication of their works, at least they got a postal update twice per day. Perhaps two batches of rejection letters daily! For Darwin, he wrote thousands of letters annually, so I’m sure news of his work was sandwiched between pleasant correspondences.