venerdì 10 febbraio 2012
Very few people know that Emma Wedgwood wasn’t the only great love in Darwin’s life.
Fanny Owen of Woodhouse, the sister of his school friend William Owen, was Darwin’s first love.
Fanny was a pretty free spirit, unusual in Jane Austen times. She was great at riding and shooting and Charles admired her a lot for this reason.
When he went to University, they wrote to each other and he kept her letters in his desk for the rest of his life.
Charles said about her: “Fanny as all the world knows is the prettiest, plumpest, most charming personage that Shropshire possesses, and Birmingham too” and called her “la belle Fanny”.
She called him “Postillion” and he called her “Housemaid” ; the couple very often went riding together across the country and rolled together on strawberries fields.
These were the years in which Darwin studied at Cambridge’s Christ’s College; a very good period for him.
He later wrote “ Upon the whole, the three years I spent at Cambridge were the most joyful of my happy life”
In that period Charles developed a beetles mania and, with his second cousin William Darwin Fox, looked for rare species of beetles in the countryside around Cambridge. Darwin’s enthusiasm was legendary….He wrote “ no poet ever felt more delight at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, ‘captured by C.Darwin,Esq.’
Fanny reproved Charles, complaining that he preferred beetles to her! She wrote: ”Why did you not come home for Xmas? I supposed some dear little Beetles kept you away! If I had wrote to you that I had found a Scrofulum morturorum you would come home!
He also established a dining club, named “Glutton Club”
They met once a week to eat meat of animals, “unknown to human palate”; the group would sample unusual meats, including delights such as hawk, bittern and old brown owl. But the Gluttons chickened out after digesting a particularly stringy and very hot old brown owl!
Darwin was an unusual gourmet.
On the Beagle his culinary experiments were even more extravagant, having a go at armadillo and an anonymous chocolate-colored rodent, which he announced as 'the best meat I ever tasted'. The tortoises from the Galapagos were used as sustenance (none of the shells were kept for science). Land iguanas were, according to Darwin, 'hideous animals, but are considered good food'.
Then he was given the opportunity to travel around the world.
And as Darwin was setting sail on his voyage on the Beagle, Fanny wrote: “You hope I shall not have forgotten you! “So do not my dear Charles talk of forgetting!
“The many happy hours we have had together from the time we were Housemaid and Postillion together, are not to be forgotten and would that there was not to be an end of them!”
Only four months later
when Charles arrived in Brazil, his sister sent him a letter to inform him that Fanny had married Robert Myddelton Biddulph!
he was obviously completely shocked!
Would Darwin’s life be different if he had married “ la Belle Fanny” instead of the “religious Emma”?