Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tangled banks

I have been intending to write something about our very fine one-day getaway from the city on Sunday, but I haven't gotten to it. Among other things, I've shifted my research up to Colindale, which--unlike the British Library's St. Pancras reading rooms--doesn't seem to have wi-fi.

The agony.

This has a downside, obviously, but it may somewhat improve my research efficiency.

In any case, Francis has beaten me to it, describing the tour we made together of Down House, the home of Charles Darwin.

I had jokingly commented to The Wife that this was a kind of 'pilgrimage', but it occurred to me that it was actually almost the opposite. What is interesting about seeing the house is that--far from serving as a kind of secular shrine that elevates the man to some sort of otherworldly genius--it in fact makes Darwin ever more human. The curators have done a fairly good job of giving visitors insights into the Darwin family's domestic life (cluttered closets and all), not to mention a sense of Charles's own personal quirks.

The garden is lovely, but thoroughly practical. The house, while exuding a sense of solid, respectable wealth, is not grandiose.

It's a very pleasant place, and I recommend walking along Darwin's 'thinking path', where he apparently did a lot of his mental toil.

Although it was our idea to go to Downe, Francis doesn't mention the side journey he suggested along the way, a visit to the Medway estuary. Getting out for a bit of a nature ramble was a perfect prelude to visiting Darwin's house. There were unfortunately no plovers to be seen that day (wrong time of year, I think), but it was otherwise ideal.

And we thank Francis not only for his time but also for driving us through the Kent countryside, showing us a corner of the country we had hitherto not known.

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