1809–1831FINDING THE NAME IN THE FLOWER
THE CHAPEL SCHOOL
‘He brought a flower to school. He said his mother
taught him to look inside the blossom
and discover the name of the plant.
I inquired how it could be done
but the lesson was not transmissible.’
A walk through the zebra maze, to the Unitarian
chapel on Claremont Hill. What do they say,
the black stripes on white house-walls? He ’s afraid
of the dogs on Baker Street. When boys play
he chews the inside of his mouth. He can never fight. Darwin grew up in Shrewsbury, a medieval English town on the border of Wales, where his father built a house in 1800. Early in 1817, when he was a timid boy of seven, his mother enrolled him in a small school attached to the Chapel in town. The words quoted here come from the earliest memory of Darwin by anyone other than his family: William Leighton, an older pupil at the school who later
became a botanist.
THE YEAR MY MOTHER DIED
‘I remember her sewing-table, curiously constructed.
Her black velvet gown. Nothing else
except her death-bed. And my Father, crying.’ No embrace.
‘My older sisters, in their great grief,
did not speak her name.’ Her memory was silence.
No memento of her face.Darwin’s mother Susanna, daughter of the potter Josiah Wedgwood, died young in July 1817, when Darwin was eight.
STEALING THE AFFECTION OF DOGS
He does not seem to have known half how much our father loved him. --Caroline Wedgwood, née Darwin
Bits of the world blow towards him and come apart
on the wind. He invents. He lies.
‘I had a passion for dogs. They seemed to know.
I was adept in robbing their masters of their love.’
He steals apples from the orchard, gives them to boys
in a cottage and tells them to watch how fast he runs.
He climbs a beech by the wall of the locked kitchen garden
and dreams himself into the inner gloss
of raspberry canes. A forest, glowing in its net.
Emerald coal in a watchman’s brazier.
He straddles the coping, fits a stick in the hole at the foot
of a flower-pot, and pulls. Peaches and plums
fall in. Enough to have begun an orchard of his own.
My father’s. Valuable. The words hang in the trees
when the soft blobs are gone. He hides his loot
in shrubbery and runs to tell:
he has found a hoard of stolen fruit!The Mount, Shrewsbury, 1817–20.
Excerpted from Darwin by Ruth Padel. Copyright © 2012 by Ruth Padel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.