Saturday, January 26, 2013
From ¨The house where Darwin lived¨
" Charles Darwin lived with his wife, children and servants in Down House, a Georgian manor 15 miles south of London in the Kent countryside, for 40 years—from 1842 to 1882. Like all close-knit families, they did not just live in this house, they created a remarkable home here. Emma and Charles adapted Down House and the 20 or so acres of its grounds, extending the building and gardens continuously, so they could nurture a large family and a community within it, built on routines, mutual respect, adaptation, tolerance, affection and good humor.
In his book Art Matters, the art theorist Peter de Bolla claims that we must attend to what paintings “know,” what knowledge they contain in themselves that is separate from what their makers might have known; coming back to visit Darwin’s house last fall, in rich autumnal sunshine, I wondered what Down House might know, not just about Darwin and his family but about kinship and community.
Once Emma died, in 1896, 14 years after her husband, the house was rented out to tenants and spent some time as a girls’ school, but from the late 1920s various attempts were made to preserve it as a monument to Darwin. An institution called English Heritage acquired Down House in 1996 and restored it; it is open to visitors year-round and now has a small museum, a shop and a parking lot. Though it was the home of a wealthy country squire, it was always a family house, not at all showy, and its curators have kept it that way. There’s a large hallway with cupboards built to store tennis rackets and boots and old manuscripts. Off it branch high-ceilinged family rooms: a billiards room, Darwin’s study, a drawing room, a dining room. Upstairs is a school room and bedrooms and, on the third floor, servants’ quarters. The high windows have solid-panel shutters that fold back into their frames, so the boundary between inside and outside seems permeable; trees and green are visible everywhere through glass; light pours in."
Read the article by Rebecca Stott in full:
“Capital” was how Darwin described his study, where he analyzed carnivorous plants and invited his children to oversee experiments. (Andrea Artz / LAIF / Redux)
Manuscript pages from On the Origin of Species lie on the desk where Darwin wrote his masterwork. (Press Association / AP Images)