In the last couple of days at least two people have told me how much they have enjoyed Looking for Death, and, of course, that has given me enormous pleasure. It’s obviously one of my main aims to create something which people will enjoy, although I know it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. None of us ever does.
I was thinking about the notion of pleasing people yesterday, when, at long last, I visited Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. It’s virtually on my doorstep, but, despite hearing glowing reports of it, this was the first time I had made a conscious decision to check it out for myself.
Down House is where Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, and the exhibition on the upper floor of the house concentrates on how this book, surely one of the most famous ever written, came into being. Darwin gathered a lot of material for the book during his epic voyage on the Beagle (1831- 36), but Origin wasn’t published until over twenty years later in November 1859. No doubt he was busy checking and revising his material, but it’s also likely that there was another important reason for this apparent delay. The truth was that Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest was just so revolutionary that it had potential to upset large swathes of the public, not least members of the Church hierarchy. In fact, it seems that he was only persuaded to publish when he learnt that some one else was thinking along much the same lines and was about to beat him to the post.
As it happens, On the Origin of Species did cause some controversy, but it was also a huge success and the first edition sold out instantly.
But I wasn’t just thinking in terms of the book’s ability to please or otherwise: I was also interested in the way the curators of Down House had set out the exhibition so that it had a very wide appeal. While the top floor was more science orientated, the ground floor rooms had been restored to the way in which they were in Darwin’s time, and there was information about the Darwin family habits as well as the various wallpapers and other furnishings, Although a man of science and a Victorian to boot, it was apparent that Darwin had a very relaxed attitude to his children and didn’t subscribe to the idea that children should be seen and not heard: the wooden slide which the Darwin children used to descend the stairs, destroying numerous carpets as they went, was very much in evidence. (It was at this point that my own daughter, herself a budding scientist, informed me that she used to slide down our own Victorian banisters rather more often than I would care to know.)
We rounded off the trip with a visit to the gardens and the greenhouse where Darwin carried out some of his experiments, and, just like Julie would have been, I was enchanted by the beds of sturdy hollyhocks and roses. Unfortunately, yesterday was the day the much needed rain came, so our visit was cut a little short, but I don’t think it will be too long before I’m at Down House again.