Monday, June 22, 2009

Emma Darwin's poignant diary entry

I am still slowly but surely working away on a paper debunking the myth that Annie Darwin's death had anything to do with Charles Darwin's loss of faith in Christianity. And in preparing the paper, I have been looking at the diaries of Charles Darwin and of Emma Darwin, his wife.

There has been quite a bit of publicity about the recent publication of Emma's diaries, but I didn't realise until recently that Charles Darwin also kept a journal of his life (see the Introduction by John van Wyhe). Darwin started keeping the journal in 1838, but backdated the entries to his birth, and made the last entry just four months before his death.

In researching the background to Annie's final illness and death, I took a look at both diaries. Annie Darwin fell ill in the summer of 1850, as is evidenced by this entry from Emma's diary for 27th June:
"Annie first failed about this time"
She was taken to Malvern by Charles on March 24th 1851, in the hope that she would benefit from Dr Gully's water cure. Charles records this and the subsequent tragic events on a single poignant page in his diary:
"March 24th to Malvern with Annie & Etty. returned home 31st.— April 16th. started for Malvern. April 23d our dear child expired. 24th. I returned to Emma. Our darling was born March 2d. 1841.—"
Emma in her diary maintains a progress report on Annie,  gleaned from the letters sent by Dr Gully and by Charles. Unlike most of her diary entries, which tend to be rather terse, her entries on Annie are more informative than usual. On 7th April she writes "Annie's sickup"; on 13th April: "Annie very weak"; on April 14th "Better, Dr G. said she had turned the corner"; on April 15th: "Dr G alarmed, wrote for Ch./ began urine". 

I will leave it to you the reader to follow Emma's records of Annie's illness through these links to individual pages for each week:

But for me Emma's entry on Annie's death is the most poignant of all these diary entries, whether from Charles or Emma. After writing "much better" on April 21st and "diarrhea came on" on April 22nd, for April 23rd, she writes simply:
"12 o'clock"
the time of Annie's death. This reminds me of Auden's poem, Funeral Blues: "Stop all the clocks..." and, for me, nothing in any of the accounts of Annie's illness and death could be more arresting.


Anonymous said...

Poignantly similar to the way in which Emma recorded the death of her husband many years later:

Antonia said...

What a terrible absence must have descended upon the Down House after Annie's death. Losing a child is the worse tragedy that any parent could imagine. Thank you for sharing your research.