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Darwin's Illness$

Ralph Colp Jr.

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780813032313

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813032313.001.0001

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Self-Observation and Doing Dr. Gully's Treatment at Down and Then Self-Observation and Treating Himself

Self-Observation and Doing Dr. Gully's Treatment at Down and Then Self-Observation and Treating Himself

(p.49) 7 Self-Observation and Doing Dr. Gully's Treatment at Down and Then Self-Observation and Treating Himself
Darwin's Illness

Ralph Colp Jr. M.D.

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

Charles Darwin followed Dr. James Gully's directions and adapted the Malvern treatments to life at Down. He also recorded that over a period of twenty-one months, he treated himself with several combinations of hydropathy, usually consisting of lamp baths, douches, shallow baths, foot baths, and being rubbed with dripping sheets, and that he varied these combinations every three to six weeks. Although he never found a combination of hydropathy that freed him from flatulence, he came to accept the limitations and benefits of hydropathy. Darwin kept up his health diary through to January 1855, a period of almost four years, during which he stopped corresponding with Dr. Gully and became his own physician. In most of the diary entries, he adapted a method of summarizing his health by writing “well” or “well very”, and further delineating the degree of wellness by underlining the “very” with one or two dashes. His health diary reveals that almost any physical, mental, or medical event that disturbed Darwin's daily routine could cause an increase in his flatulence. The diary does not show the effects of barnacle work on Darwin's flatulence.

Keywords:   Charles Darwin, Down, Dr. James Gully, Malvern treatments, hydropathy, health diary, flatulence

On returning home, Darwin followed Dr. Gully's directions and adapted Malvern treatments to Down living. He went on early morning walks around the sandwalk, rode a horse bought in Malvern, and on 24 July resumed work on barnacles, which was limited by Dr. Gully to two and a half hours per day.1

He trained his butler Parslow to be a washerman and had hydropathy in a small church-shaped hut built for him near Down's well by the village carpenter, John Lewis. The hut contained a tub with a platform on it and a huge cistern above that held 640 gallons of water. The carpenter's fifteen-year-old son, also named John Lewis (then a page to the Darwin family), recollected: “I had to pump it [the cistern] fully every day. … Mr. Darwin came out and had a little dressing place, and he'd go out on the stage … pull the string, and all the water fell on him through a two-inch pipe. A douche, they called it.” Young Lewis also remembered how he helped to prepare Darwin's early morning lamp bath: “At seven … I had to have the big bath outside the study on the lawn … and Mr. Darwin would come down [into his hut] and sit in a chair with a spirit lamp and all rolled round with blankets till the sweat poured off him in showers when he shook his head. … I've heard him cry to … Parslow, ‘I'll be melted away if you don't hurry!’ Then he'd get into the ice-cold bath in the open air.”2

Darwin's daughter Etty remembers how she and other children would stand outside the hydropathy hut listening to the “groans” of their father as he took his cold water treatments.3 Etty's brother George writes that his father would (p.50) have hydropathy at noon every day even in the coldest weather. “I remember well one bitter cold day with the snow covering everything waiting outside [the hydropathy hut] until he had finished & that he came out almost blue with cold & we trotted away at a good brisk pace over the snow to the Sandwalk.”4

In his health diary, Darwin recorded that over a period of twenty-one months, from July 1849 until April 1851, he treated himself with several combinations of hydropathy, usually consisting of lamp baths, douches, shallow baths, foot baths, and being rubbed with dripping sheets and that he varied these combinations every three to six weeks.5

Although he never found a combination of hydropathy that freed him from flatulence, he came to accept the limitations and benefits of hydropathy, and in May 1850 he wrote to Fox that even with the persistence of flatulence, he felt “infinitely better than before I commenced the W[ater] Cure.” Several months later, in reply to arguments made by Fox against the efficacy of hydropathy, he wrote: “Your aphorism that ‘any remedy will cure any malady’ contains, I do believe, profound truth, whether applicable or not to the wondrous Water Cure, I am not very sure. The Water Cure, however, keeps in high favour, & I go regularly on with douching &c &c.”6

One reason for continuing to use hydropathy was a continuing confidence in his Malvern physician. All during the above period of twenty-one months, Darwin regularly reported in letters to Dr. Gully, who then wrote back instructions for changes in treatment. In September 1849 and June 1850, according to his health diary, he visited Gully in Malvern. However, in a September 1850 letter to Fox, he criticized Dr. Gully for believing in homeopathy, mesmerism, and clairvoyance, and commented: “It is a sad flaw, I cannot but think in my beloved Dr. Gully that he believes in everything.”7 Many years later, George Darwin recollected:

Dr. Gully … bothered my father for some time to have a consultation with a clairvoyante, who was staying at Malvern, and was reputed to be able to see the insides of people & discover the real nature of their ailments. At last he consented to pacify Dr. Gully, but on condition that he be allowed to test the clairvoyante's powers for himself. Accordingly, in going to the interview he put a banknote in a sealed envelope. After being introduced to the lady, he said, “I have heard a great deal of your powers of reading concealed writings & I should like to have evidence myself; now in this envelope there is a banknote—if you will read the number I shall be happy to present it to you.” The clairvoyante answered scornfully, (p.51) “I have a maid-servant at home who can do that.” But she had her revenge, for on proceeding to the diagnosis of my father's illness, she gave a most appalling picture of the horrors which she saw in his inside.8

In June 1850, the Darwin's nine-year-old daughter Annie began suffering from a malaise that persisted into the first months of 1851. When she was not helped by medications from Dr. Holland, her father placed her under the care of Dr. Gully, who then suggested that Darwin treat Annie with daily hydropathy at Down and report to him on the effects of these treatments. At this time, Darwin also continued to report to Dr. Gully on how hydropathy was affecting his illness. After several months of hydropathy failed to improve Annie's malaise, Darwin brought her to Malvern on 24 March 1851 for further treatment by Dr. Gully, while he returned to Down to be with his pregnant wife. (On 13 May 1851, Emma would give birth to her ninth child and fifth son, Horace.) Weeks later, Annie developed a low-grade fever with bilious vomiting that caused Dr. Gully to fear for her life and to write her father to come immediately.9

Darwin arrived at Malvern on Thursday, April 17. Over the next six days, as he experienced one of the most painful events of his life, he found it was a relief to write Emma detailed accounts of Annie's condition, while Emma felt a similar relief after reading what he had written. On Friday, he wrote: “It is now from hour to hour a struggle between life & death. … Sometimes Dr. G[ully] exclaims she [Annie] will get through the struggle; then, I see, he doubts. … She has vomited a large quantity of bright green fluid. Her case seems to me an exaggerated one of my Maer illness.”10 On that Saturday, he was joined at Malvern by Fanny Wedgwood, Emma's sister-in-law, who came at Emma's request. Emma, who believed her husband's health was “always affected by his mind,” now feared that his anxiety over Annie would make him ill, and she hoped Fanny would comfort him and aid in the care of Annie.11

On 21 and 22 April, although Annie appeared somewhat better, Darwin wrote Emma, “I must not hope too much. These alternations of no hope & hope sicken one's soul.” Although he was so restless that he could not sit still and was “constantly up & down,” he took part in Annie's nursing, bathing her in a mixture of vinegar and water, giving her water and brandy to drink, and applying poultices to her abdomen. Fanny Wedgwood stayed by Darwin and Annie's side, and Darwin told his wife they were “under deep obligations to Fanny never to be forgotten.”12

On Tuesday morning, Darwin wrote an optimistic letter to Emma, but soon doubted his hopes and did not send the letter.13 Later in the day, Fanny reported (p.52) that he was “very ill … with one of his stomach attacks” and that “it's most affecting to me how he suffers constantly crying—but he says it's a relief.”14 By that evening, Annie was “sinking,” and Dr. Gully declared she was “in imminent danger.”15

Annie died at noon on Wednesday. Dr. Gully recorded the cause of death as “bilious fever with typhoid character.”16 In the afternoon, Darwin wrote to Emma that Annie “went to her final sleep most tranquilly, most sweetly. … We must be more & more to each other my dear wife. … I am in bed not very well with my stomach.”17 During his stay at Malvern, Darwin's stomach illness appears to have consisted of fits of flatulence that were not associated with vomiting.18

On Wednesday evening, Fanny informed Emma that she had been sitting with Darwin, who had been “able to find relief in crying much.” At the same time, Emma wrote to Fanny: “I cannot help all sorts of fears for Charles which I know are not reasonable. … I know he must be ill. … My first feeling of consolation will be to have him safe home again.” Darwin and Fanny then arranged for him to return home on Thursday, 24 April, while she would remain at Malvern and be present at Annie's burial in the yard of Malvern's Priory Church on 25 April. Darwin arrived home at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. On Friday, Emma again wrote Fanny: “I cannot tell you the surprise and joy it was to see poor Charles arrive. … He is much better bodily than I had any hopes of and not worse in spirits.” By “better bodily,” Emma meant that despite the stresses of Annie's death and of traveling from Malvern to Down, her husband's stomach complaints and dizziness were not as severe as she had feared. Emma added: “We have done little else but cry together and talk about our darling. He cannot express what a comfort you were.”19

Five days later, Darwin wrote down those memories of Annie that brought out his deepest feelings so that he would always remember her.20 His weeping for her, first with Fanny and then with Emma, perhaps was the most heartfelt weeping he had ever experienced. It was probably because of this weeping that his illness did not become more severe and that his physical health remained relatively stable during the period of Annie's death.21

Darwin kept up his health diary through January 1855, a period of almost four years, during which he stopped corresponding with Dr. Gully and became his own physician.22 The diary records that from 26 April to 21 June 1851, he took daily shallow baths, and then for about two months he had no hydropathy. From 28 August to 7 October he had what he would describe as “moderately severe treatment,” consisting of lamp baths, douches, shallow baths, and foot (p.53) baths. From 8 October 1851 to 14 January 1852, his hydropathy was limited to daily shallow baths. From 15 January to 28 February, he had “moderately severe treatments” of lamp baths, douches, foot baths, and shallow baths, and then told Fox that these treatments were “always with good effect.”23

From 1 March to 10 June, his treatment was limited to either daily shallow baths or daily dripping sheets. From 11 to 20 June he had “moderately severe treatments,” followed by daily treatments of either shallow baths or dripping sheets from 21 June to 11 July, and then moderately severe treatments from 12 July to 21 August. After this last treatment he wrote at the end of the August page of his diary: “Six weeks of treatment: not much good effect extremely tired in Evening. I do not think last treatment did me much good.”

From 22 August through December, he had daily shallow baths. For almost a year he then had no water treatment. From 13 November to 25 December 1853, he had six weeks of moderately severe treatment. Water treatments then ceased for several years. Darwin had come to recognize that he was well enough to do without hydropathy, while continuing to believe in its beneficial effects should his illness worsen.

The diary records that occasionally, and for very brief periods, he used several nonhydropathy forms of treatment. On 24 December 1850 he began rubbing tartar emetic ointment into his skin, and on 27 February 1851 he began using it in the evening. His reasons for taking the ointment were not known.24 On 4 March 1851 he treated his flatulence by taking Croton, a medicinal substance found in plants that was used as a tonic and for treating dyspepsia.25

On 16 October 1851, he wrote in the diary, “(Electric Chains to Waist),” and on 19 October, “do [ditto] neck.” A hydroelectric chain was composed of alternate brass and zinc wires which, when moistened with vinegar, gave out electric shocks.26 It was applied to different body parts for varying lengths of time and was used to treat “cases of partial paralysis, neuralgic headaches, and many other nervous diseases,” and cases where the muscles were too relaxed.27 This was his second attempt, in five years, to treat himself with currents from electrical appliances.

For several days in December 1853, he noted the nocturnal effects of coffee and tea: coffee usually caused him to be “wakeful,” but with tea, the “wakeful” effect was not as pronounced; with both beverages he was usually able to have a “good” night.28 For several months in 1854, for unknown reasons, he recorded consuming lemons two or three times a day: 23 January, “1/2 lemon thrice”; 24 January, “Whole Lemon Twice a day”; 8 March, “Left off Lemon”; and 5 April, “Half Lemon.”29

(p.54) On 31 August 1854 his daily diary entry read: “Well … as far as stomach. But very p [poor] from S.E. [Seldom Evacuating].” The night entry read, “wretched.” He then recorded in the diary, for 6–8 September, the cathartic effects of decreasing doses of Cordial Aloes: 6 September, “30 drops of Aloes no work”; 7 September, “20 drops … no work”; 8 September, “10 drops purged 5 work.” Alongside these three entries he wrote that “10 drops twice a day wd. be enough.” However, he still had bowel complaints, and on 22 September Emma wrote in her diary that his taking rust of iron chalk and rhubarb had not done “any good.” In November he evaluated the cathartic effects of decreasing and increasing the doses of Liquor Infusion Aloes: 17 November, “20 drops Aloes”; 19 November, “1 work”; 20 November, “4 work?”30 These entries on Aloes are the last medical observations in the health diary.

The diary's most commonly reported symptoms were “fits” of flatulence, occurring with a frequency of one to seven times in a period of twenty-four hours, of varying (largely unknown) durations, and greatly varying intensities that Darwin variously described as “almost,” “barely,” “very slight,” “slightest,” “slight,” “moderate,” “good deal,” “considerable,” “much,” “rather bad,” “baddish,” “not bad,” “bad,” “very bad,” “sharp,” “sharpish,” and “excessive.” It will be seen that when Darwin wrote “excessive” he was really experiencing an excessive amount of pain. Many “fits” would make him feel “fatigued,” “oppressed,” or “heavy.” Along with the fits, he sometimes had nausea, vomiting, “retching,” and retching up “acid & slime.”

Next to “fits,” his most frequently described symptoms were boils, ranging in severity from “little” and “small” to “bad.” Less frequent symptoms were skin disorders he called “rash,” “erythema,” “eruption,” that sometimes may have been caused by mechanical irritations of hydropathy treatments; headaches he usually described as “slight”; his “colds” mostly appear to have been afebrile and uncomplicated. On 20 April 1853, however, he wrote in the diary that he had a cold with mild fever and “chest-pain.” This lasted only a day.

Other symptoms included being “tired” in the evening, “shivering” that was sometimes “slight” and at other times “fatiguing,” but never as severe as the shivering he had in his violent vomiting of 1848–49, and being “weakish,” “languid,” “weak & languid.” On several occasions, he recorded a diminution in his old feeling of “sinking” by writing “sinking slight.” On 8 June 1851, he described himself as “squashy,” a term he never defined but sometimes used to describe a particular negative feeling.

When Darwin wrote to Fox in March 1852 that “my nights are always bad, & that stops my becoming vigorous,” he was referring to three nocturnal disturbances (p.55) that occurred singly or in combinations with one another: having flatulence, and other day symptoms; being “heazish,” or “heazyish,” which described breathing difficulties and coughing; and having obsessions over events that had occurred during the day: an unresolved scientific problem, failing to answer a troubling letter, a disturbing passage he had read in a book, or a troublesome conversation.31 These nocturnal thoughts would often cause him to lie awake or sit up in bed for hours.32 Sometimes when he was troubled by what he had said to a person, he would get up from his bed at night so as to further explain to the person exactly what he had meant to say.33 He was especially vulnerable to nocturnal obsessional thoughts because, when he was lying in bed, he lacked distractions (reading, music, and backgammon).

In most of the diary entries he adapted a method of summarizing his health by writing “well” or “well very,” and further delineating the degree of wellness by underlining the “very” with one or two dashes. At the end of each month, at the bottom of the diary page, he counted the number of “double-dash” days, valuing these days for their feeling of well-being and for the work he had accomplished. However, although on most double-dash days he had a diminution of flatulence, on other double-dash days in 1850 and 1851 he had “occasional” flatulence, and in August 1853 he wrote at the bottom of the diary page: “17 Double-Dashes, but I think I am not as strict as I used to be.” On April 1854 he wrote at the bottom of the diary: “Only 3 Double Dashes & two of these not good!” On the two “not good days” he had “occasional flatulence.”

Collating Darwin's increases in illness with what is known about events in his life, it can be seen that a frequent cause for these increases were his travels from Down. On 16 August 1849, he dined and visited at the home of Lord Mahon at Chevening, which was about three miles from Down. In a September letter to Lyell he reported how, during the visit, Lord Stanhope (father of Lord Mahon) had “abused geology & zoology heartily,” “describing species of birds & shells &c [as] all fiddle faddle.” While the visit was not mentioned in the health diary, the diary records that the day after the visit Darwin had “3 its of fl night rather wakeful much fl.”34

On 11 and 12 September 1849, Darwin and Emma went to Birmingham for a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. When he was there, he thought that the meeting place was “large & nasty” and the meeting “not very brilliant,” and he had increasing day and night flatulence. After eight days, he and Emma started for Warwick and Kenilworth, but he “broke down” and returned to Down, where he spent a day in bed feeling “poorly” and with “a good deal of ft.” He then told Henslow: “I think I stand any change, (p.56) even worse than formerly & my stomach has not gotten over the excitement of Birmingham as yet.”35

On 28 January and 16 November 1850, when he traveled to the preparatory school attended by his son William, located in Mitcham in Surrey, he suffered “continued” flatulence.36 On 4 September 1850, he reported to Fox that he was considering the “awful experiment” of sending William to the Bruce Castle School, which had many educational innovations in its curriculum. In his diary entry for 6 September, he recorded his visit to the school, which was at Tottenham in the environs of London, as follows: “London. Well not quite. Excessive ft.” At night: “excessive ft.” Following this, he had increased flatulence for several nights, probably from worrying about the Bruce Castle School and William, and then decided to send William to Rugby.37

From 30 July to 10 August 1851, the Darwin family went to London for three weeks and visited the Crystal Palace and Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. This was the first great “World Fair,” seen daily by enormous crowds and remembered “with wonder and admiration by all.”38 Although Darwin “in-tensely” enjoyed the Exhibition, he told an acquaintance that he had “many bad headaches” from “heat & fatigue” and that “London … always makes me unwell.”39

From 23 to 27 March 1852, he visited William at Rugby, and the diary shows that he had “well very” health. When he went on to visit his sisters Catherine and Susan at Shrewsbury, he became “not well” and had fits of flatulence. On 17 November 1852 (the fourth anniversary of the death of his father), he visited London for the day with Hooker, and with crowds estimated at hundreds of thousands viewed the body of the Duke of Wellington lying in state in the hall of Chelsea Hospital.40 He then reported in the diary that he had two fits of flatulence and a “poor” night. In 1853, he twice visited the Crystal Palace, which was being built anew at Sydenham, and each time he had some accentuations of his flatulence.41

From 13 to 17 August 1853, he and his family stayed at The Hermitage, home of his brother-in-law Harry Wedgwood. Nearby was Chobham Camp, where since June, a force of about ten to sixteen thousand English soldiers and dragoons had been engaged in mimic warfare (the first protracted large-scale mimic warfare in the history of the peacetime British army).42 For three days, Darwin watched this “warfare” with “intense enjoyment” and “happy excitement,” and was “keener than anyone in his interest.”43 On this occasion, “excitement” did not disturb his health. In the diary, he described himself as “well very.” His nights, however, were either “goodish” or “indifferent.” On 10 June 1854, he, (p.57) Emma, and Emma's sixty-one-year-old sister, Elizabeth Wedgwood, traveled to Sydenham to watch—along with tens of thousands of spectators—Queen Victoria open the new Crystal Palace.44 It was an event which Darwin, in a letter to his son William, described as follows: “I did not much care for it: it was so hot that Aunt Elizabeth fainted dead away & it was very frightening & disagreeable; and we had to lay her flat on the ground.”45 In the diary, he recorded his health as “Poorly & sickness & bad headache”; his night was “good.” From 13 to 15 July 1854, he sojourned at Hartfield, which was the home of several Wedgwood relatives.46 Here there was a wild forest that he greatly enjoyed walking in alone.47 In the diary, he described his health as “well” and “well very,” and his nights as “goodish” and “good.”48 The diary showed that in travels to London (some of which were to attend scientific meetings, or study barnacles at the British Museum), while he frequently had increases in flatulence, he sometimes remained well.

Although traveling did not always make him sick, he came to believe that all travels were hazardous to his health. He excused himself from visiting Fox by writing his old friend: “Very many thanks for your most kind & large invitation to Delamere, but I fear we can hardly compass it. I dread going anywhere, on account of my stomach so easily failing under any excitement.” Several months later, he told Fox that because of his “dreadful flatulence,” he could “in fact … go nowhere.”49

Visitors had variable effects on his health. On 2 November 1849, when he was visited at Down by Fox, the visit was constrained by his having “excessive” day and night flatulence. Two months later he wrote Fox that his health was “better than when you were here,” and that despite illness he and Emma had “both much enjoyed” the visit. In March 1851, in a letter to Fox, he commented on the influence of illness on his friendships: “long continued ill-health has much changed me, & I very often think with pain how cold & different I must appear to my few old friends to what I was formerly; but I internally know that the inner part of my mind remains the same with my old affections.”50 When he was visited by Lyell from 15 to 18 October 1849, and from 28 to 30 April 1850, while there was no record of what they talked about, the diary shows that his health remained good. When Lyell visited him on two occasions in 1851–22 February and 22–25 October—they talked about controversial aspects of his transmutation theory (Lyell did not believe in transmutation) and the diary showed an increase in his flatulence.51 On 27–30 November 1851, when he was visited by his Beagle friend Captain Sulivan, the diary shows an increase in flatulence. On 17–26 April 1852, when Hooker and Hooker's wife stayed at (p.58) Down, the diary shows that Darwin was sometimes ill and sometimes well. On 26–28 October 1854, when Hooker and Lyell visited him, he had no illness.

The diary recorded several illnesses and their causes: 17 May 1850, one fit of flatulence “from excitment,” without specifying what the excitement was; 22 July 1851, three fits of flatulence from being visited by two acquaintances, Daniel Rowlands and George Armstrong; and 6 January 1854, “several fits” of flatulence from attending a party given by the Fry family, who lived near Down village. On January 1850, a week before and a week after Emma gave birth to a fourth son, Darwin had a good deal of nocturnal flatulence. In May 1851, a week before and a week after Emma gave birth to a fifth son, he had “slight Eruption.” On 15 and 23 October 1852, when he was at two “Dinner Parties,” the first given by the Normans (who were friends and neighbors) and a second attended by unidentified individuals, he did not have significant ill effects.

On some occasions the diary recorded illnesses from foods: 30 August 1849, “much fl. From spice”; 24 June 1850, “2 long fits of fl Evening (Salad)”; 27 April 1853, “Poorly sickness frm indigestion”; and 15 July 1853, “Dreadful vomiting from Crab” [after supper when the Darwin family was staying at Sea Houses, in Eastbourne].

While boils and colds would sometimes not much disturb Darwin, at other times they resulted in the following diary entries: 15 April 1850, “(Boil) night at first very much fl,” and on 20 April, “Boil broke night, later much fl.”; 18 May 1850, “2 rather bad fits of fl (Got Boil),” and on 22 May, “6 or 7 bad fits of fl (Boil first broke).” On 10 November 1850, “Poorly bed. Much continued fl. (cold),” and at night “some bad fits of fl”; 21 January 1851, “Poorly headache, excessive fl from Boils”; 10 March 1851, “1 baddish fit (new Boil)”; 14 July 1851, “occas. fl (small Boil broke)”; 17 April 1852, “several fits slight headache Cold,” and on 21 April, “1 baddish fit (slight cold)”; 4 January 1853, “Poorly a little not much fl. Boil”; 6 February 1854, “i fit (slight cold)”; 30 March 1854, “much vomiting Bad Boil”; 2 July 1854, “Well not quite, 2 Boils”; and on the next day, “Poorly, sickness.”

Let us now consider what the health diary reveals, and does not reveal, about some of the overall patterns of Darwin's illness between 1849 and 1854. The diary shows that almost any physical, mental, or medical event that disturbed Darwin's daily routine could cause an increase in his flatulence. He lived under the tyranny of day and night “fits” of flatulence and apprehensions of the flatulence becoming worse and leading to uncontrolled vomiting. However, despite “excessive” episodes of flatulence and occasional vomiting, his vomiting (p.59) did not become uncontrolled as in 1848–49, so that he was able to return to his pre-1848 routine of work. In an 1850 letter to his ex-servant Covington, he wrote: “I am sorry to say that my health keeps indifferent, and I have given up all hopes of ever being a strong man again … but natural history fills up my time.”52 In 1852 he wrote to Fox: “not that I am at all worse, perhaps rather better & lead a very comfortable life with my 3 hours of daily work, but it is the life of a hermit.”53 One reason for his illness not worsening was that he appears to have been careful not to work on barnacles for more than three hours daily (doubtless influenced by Dr. Gully's advice on not working too hard).

What the diary does not reveal is the effects of barnacle work on Darwin's flatulence. Nowhere in the diary is this work mentioned as a possible cause for his episodes of flatulence. And yet the work, although limited, occurred almost daily and was often found by Darwin to be wearying and more difficult than he had expected,54 and it became one of the main stresses in his life. Perhaps one reason he did not acknowledge this stress is that he wanted to show Dr. Gully that he was not being hurt by his work. He also may not have mentioned his visits with Lord Mahon, Fox, and others because he feared these visits detracted from his doing hydropathy at home. Thus, in his previously quoted September 1849 letter to Lyell, he commented that his visit to Lord Mahon was “against all rules,” meaning the rules established by Dr. Gully for how he should do hydropathy at Down.

In a May 1854 letter to Hooker (who had recently complained of stomach illness), Darwin explained some of the reasons for keeping his health diary: “I am really truly sorry to hear about your stomach. I entreat you to write down your own case,—symptoms—& habits of life, & then consider your case as that of stranger; & I put it to you, whether common sense w.d not order you to take more regular exercise & work your Brains less.—(N.B. take a cold bath & walk before breakfast) I am certain in the long run you would not lose time. Till you have a thoroughly bad stomach, you will not know the really great evil of it, morally physically & every way. Do reflect & act resolutely. Remember your troubled heart-action formerly plainly told how your constitution was tried. but I will say no more, excepting that a man is mad to risk health, on which everything—including his children's inherited health depends.—Do not hate me for this lecture.” At the end of the letter, he wrote: “Adios, my dear Hooker; do be wise & good & be careful of your stomach, within which, as I know full well, lie intellect, conscience, temper & the affections.”55

Following this letter to Hooker, Darwin went on writing a daily health diary for a period of seven months, June 1854 until the middle of January 1855. While (p.60) the diary entries showed his health remained relatively stable, he noted that from 14 through 29 December, his children were ill.56 Hoping that they would benefit from a “change of air” (even if the new air was London air),57 he moved with his family to London from 18 January through 14 February. On returning to Down he reported to Fox that the move “turned out a great failure, for the dreadful frost just set in when we went, & all our children got unwell & Emma & I had coughs, & colds, & rheumatism nearly all the time.” His health became better when he returned home.58

The move to London coincided with changes in the diary. After writing an entry for 16 January 1855, he wrote no further entries, but recorded the daily dates until 31 January. Following this, six years after he had begun writing the diary, he stopped. His reasons for stopping are not known. In the future, although he would make some occasional medical notes in a “private diary,” he would not again attempt to keep a daily health diary.59


(1.) Correspondence, 4: 240, 249, 269. The date when Darwin resumed work on barnacles is specified in his health diary.

(2.) Lewis 1909.

(3.) Henrietta Litchfield, autobiography, DAR, 246.

(4.) G. Darwin, “Recollections.

(5.) Notes to health diary for December 1849 and January 1850.

(6.) Correspondence, 4: 335, 353.

(7.) Correspondence, 4: 354.

(8.) G. Darwin, “Recollections.

(9.) Keynes 2001, 148–53, 154, 156–60, 165–68.

(10.) Correspondence, 5: 14. “My Maer illness” refers to Darwin's prolonged illness at Maer in the summer and fall of 1840, when Emma was pregnant with Annie. For an account of this illness, see chapter 4.

(11.) Emma Darwin (1904), 11, 142; Keynes 2001, 171; Correspondence, 5: 15, 17.

(12.) Correspondence, 5: 18–19, 20.

(13.) Correspondence, 5: 23, note 7.

(14.) Fanny Wedgwood to her husband, Hensleigh Wedgwood, 23 April 1851, quoted in Bowlby 1990, 296.

(15.) Correspondence, 5: 23, note 7.

(16.) For a discussion of the meaning of this diagnosis and the possibility that Annie may have died from tuberculosis, see Keynes 2001, 199–208.

(17.) Correspondence, 5: 24.

(18.) Since Darwin stopped keeping his health diary when he was at Malvern (see health diary for 15–26 April 1851), the nature and intensity of his stomach illness can only be inferred from his letters to Emma and the correspondence of Fanny Wedgwood and Emma.

(19.) Letters quoted in Bowlby 1990, 296.

(20.) Colp 1987, 25–26; Keynes 2001, 195–98.

(21.) Colp 1987, 24. (Whereas I formerly stated that Darwin wept with his sisters Mari-anne and Caroline at the time of his mother's death, I now believe that the extent of his weeping is undetermined.) Bowlby 1990, 297.

(22.) It is not known what Darwin and Dr. Gully said to each other about their future contacts when Annie died. There appears to have been no contact between them for the next twelve years. Darwin sometimes commented that he could not visit Dr. Gully in Malvern because he feared that such a visit would stimulate painful memories of Annie.

(23.) Correspondence, 5: 83.

(24.) Tartar emetic ointment, when applied to the skin, was an irritant that produced vesicles and pustules. It was used as a counterirritant in coughs and chronic lung disease. See Haller 1975, 238–41.

(25.) Royle and Headland 1865, 586–87.

(26.) Medical Times and Gazette, 10 May 1856, 464.

(27.) Association Medical Journal, 15 March 1856, 214. The electric chain was used inEngland in the 1850s and 1860s. In 1866 it was recommended by a group of distinguished (p.275) London medical authorities, including Sir Henry Holland. In 1867, however, Dr. Julius Althaus stated that the current generated by the chains was “liable to great and sudden variations within a short time,” that the chains caused sloughs and cicatrices, and that they “may aggravate the disorder for the relief of which they were brought into play.” Colwell 1922, 104–5.

(28.) Tea and coffee were both held to be cerebral stimulants and antisoporifics. It was also held that they were “sedatives” that sometimes relieved the “stupor” caused by stimulants or the “drowsiness of fatigue,” by counteracting the plethoric state of the brain and thus restoring the brain to its normal state. Royle and Headland 1865, 321, 460.

(29.) Lemon juice was used as a refrigerant, antalkaline, and antiscorbutic, and it was used to treat rheumatism. Royle and Headland 1865, 326.

(30.) Aloes was the inspissated juice from the leaves of different species of the aloe plant. This juice in small doses was a tonic, in larger doses a cathartic. Royle and Headland, 1865, 630–34. “Cordial aloes” was aloes in an alcoholic beverage. “Liquor infusion aloes” was the dilution of the juice of aloes by another liquid.

(31.) Correspondence, 5: 83. The English Dialect Dictionary (London, 1902) has the following definitions of heaze: To breathe thickly and with difficulty, to wheeze: to cough or “hawk”; As cattle when they clear the windpipe, or force up phlegm; Heazy. Adj. hoarse breathing with difficulty, wheezing: fig. creaking.

(32.) “Reminiscences,” L&L, 1: 102. These nocturnal obsessions had become severe during Darwin's 1848–49 illness.

(33.) Life and Letters, 2: 236–38.

(34.) Correspondence, 4: 252. Darwin's 16 August visit to Chevening is dated by his 9 August (1849) letter to Lady Mahon, published in Correspondence 13, Supplement, 1822–1864, 373. Darwin would later recollect that Lord Stanhope once asked him, “Why don't you give up your fiddle-faddle of geology and zoology, and turn to the occult sciences?” Autobiography, 112.

(35.) Correspondence, 4: 256; Diary, 23 September 1849.

(36.) Correspondence, 4: 363, note 7.

(37.) Correspondence, 4: 354–55, notes 5 and 6; 4: 363, note 2 at top of page.

(38.) Woodham-Smith 1972, 317.

(39.) Emma Darwin (1904), 2: 153; Correspondence, 5: 55.

(40.) In a May 1854 letter to Hooker, Darwin wrote: “The last grand thing we were at together answered, I am sure, very well & that was the Duke's Funeral.” Correspondence, 194. “Everyone from the Queen to the costermonger, went to Chelsea. They assembled in vast crowds before the Hospital was open. On the privileged day thousands failed to gain admission; on the first public day there was a stampede in which two people were killed and dozens injured. The rain fell in torrents, and the crowds went dripping through the glittering darkness to the catafalque they had waited so long to see.” Fletcher 1951, 92.

(41.) The diary has the following entries for 1853: 4 June: “well very got much ft. Crystal Palace”; 22 September: “well very several fits & headache from Crystal Palace.”

(42.) Fortescue 1930, 13, 30.

(43.) Emma Darwin (1904), 2: 168; Emma Darwin (1915), 2: 154; G. Darwin, “Recollections.

(44.) On 29 May, Darwin wrote Hooker that he and Emma “in a very profligate manner have just taken a pair of Season-tickets to see the Queen open the Crystal Palace.Correspondence, 5: 194. Sydenham was about ten miles north of Down and had a special railway station. It is not known how—whether by train or coach—the Darwins traveled to Sydenham.

(45.) Correspondence, 5: 321.

(46.) There were two houses at Hartfield, Sussex, which were about a quarter of a mile apart and which the Darwins visited: Hartfield Cove, home of Charles Langton and his wife, Charlotte Wedgwood, who was Darwin's sister-in-law; and the Ridge, home of Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood, Darwin's maternal cousin. Emma Darwin (1904), 2: 98–99.

(47.) G. Darwin, “Recollections.

(48.) The diary shows that when Darwin had visited Hartfield four years earlier, in October 1850, he had “excessive” flatulence.

(49.) Correspondence, 5: 83, 100.

(50.) Diary entry for 2 November 1849 and note on this entry; Correspondence, 4: 303;5:9.

(51.) Wilson 1977, 440–41.

(52.) Correspondence, 4: 368–69.

(53.) Correspondence, 5: 83.

(54.) Correspondence, 4: 257–60, note 3 on 259; 5: 100.

(55.) Correspondence, 5: 194–95. For Hooker's heart condition, see chapter 5. For Darwin's views on hereditary illness, see chapter 16.

(56.) Emma's 1854 diary records that Francis and Leonard came home unwell from Sarah Wedgwood's home on 13 and 15 December, respectively. On 22 December, she recorded “Franky's fit.” Correspondence, 5: 253, note 2, upper page.

(57.) Although Dr. Darwin had previously stated that London air was bad and country air good, at one time he did state that in “old cases” of whooping cough a “change of air” was “often very useful.” Colp 1977, receipts and memoranda book, Dr. Robert Darwin's entries on “Hooping Cough.”

(58.) However, in March 1855, all of the Darwin children (except for William) had whooping cough. Correspondence, 5: 289.

(59.) See chapters 13 and 14.