[The following passage by Darwin's son comes from the first volume of The The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin — George P. Landow.]
Of his personal appearance (in these days of multiplied photographs) it is hardly necessary to say much. He was about six feet in height, but scarcely looked so tall, as he stooped a good deal; in later days he yielded to the stoop; but I can remember seeing him long ago swinging his arms back to open out his chest, and holding himself upright with a jerk. He gave one the idea that he had been active rather than strong; his shoulders were not broad for his height, though certainly not narrow. As a young man he must have had much endurance, for on one of the shore excursions from the "Beagle", when all were suffering from want of water, he was one of the two who were better able than the rest to struggle on in search of it. As a boy he was active, and could jump a bar placed at the height of the "Adam's apple" in his neck.
How he walked
He walked with a swinging action, using a stick heavily shod with iron, which he struck loudly against the ground, producing as he went round the "Sand-walk" at Down, a rhythmical click which is with all of us a very distinct remembrance. As he returned from the midday walk, often carrying the waterproof or cloak which had proved too hot, one could see that the swinging step was kept up by something of an effort. Indoors his step was often slow and laboured, and as he went upstairs in the afternoon he might be heard mounting the stairs with a heavy footfall, as if each step were an effort. When interested in his work he moved about quickly and easily enough, and often in the middle of dictating he went eagerly into the hall to get a pinch of snuff, leaving the study door open, and calling out the last words of his sentence as he went. Indoors he sometimes used an oak stick like a little alpenstock, and this was a sign that he felt giddiness.
In spite of his strength and activity, I think he must always have had a clumsiness of movement. He was naturally awkward with his hands, and was unable to draw at all well. (The figure representing the aggregated cell- contents in 'Insectivorous Plants' was drawn by him.) This he always regretted much, and he frequently urged the paramount necessity of a young naturalist making himself a good draughtsman.
. . .
His beard and hair
His beard was full and almost untrimmed, the hair being grey and white, fine rather than coarse, and wavy or frizzled. His moustache was somewhat disfigured by being cut short and square across. He became very bald, having only a fringe of dark hair behind.
His face was ruddy in colour, and this perhaps made people think him less of an invalid than he was. He wrote to Dr. Hooker (June 13, 1849), "Every one tells me that I look quite blooming and beautiful; and most think I am shamming, but you have never been one of those." And it must be remembered that at this time he was miserably ill, far worse than in later years. His eyes were bluish grey under deep overhanging brows, with thick bushy projecting eyebrows. His high forehead was much wrinkled, but otherwise his face was not much marked or lined. His expression showed no signs of the continual discomfort he suffered.
His conversation and laugh
When he was excited with pleasant talk his whole manner was wonderfully bright and animated, and his face shared to the full in the general animation. His laugh was a free and sounding peal, like that of a man who gives himself sympathetically and with enjoyment to the person and the thing which have amused him. He often used some sort of gesture with his laugh, lifting up his hands or bringing one down with a slap. I think, generally speaking, he was given to gesture, and often used his hands in explaining anything (e.g. the fertilisation of a flower) in a way that seemed rather an aid to himself than to the listener. He did this on occasions when most people would illustrate their explanations by means of a rough pencil sketch.
He wore dark clothes, of a loose and easy fit. Of late years he gave up the tall hat even in London, and wore a soft black one in winter, and a big straw hat in summer. His usual out-of-doors dress was the short cloak in which Elliot and Fry's photograph represents him leaning against the pillar of the verandah. Two peculiarities of his indoor dress were that he almost always wore a shawl over his shoulders, and that he had great loose cloth boots lined with fur which he could slip on over his indoor shoes. Like most delicate people he suffered from heat as well as from chilliness; it was as if he could not hit the balance between too hot and too cold; often a mental cause would make him too hot, so that he would take off his coat if anything went wrong in the course of his work.
Darwin, Francis. The The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. Vol. I. Project Gutenberg EBook #2087 created by Sue Asscher
Last modified 28 July 2012