Friday, June 13, 2008 6/13/08-The Death of a Child

In today's excerpt--the death in 1851 of Charles Darwin's ten-year-old daughter Annie--the apple of his eye--after a periodic illness that had begun the year before:

"In the days leading up to her death, there is an anguished and poignant exchange of letters between Charles, who had traveled with her to a doctor, and [his wife] Emma. A few days after the death, Darwin composed a memorial to Annie. ... 'Her joyousness and animal spirits radiated from her whole countenance, and rendered every movement elastic and full of life and vigour. It was delightful and cheerful to behold her. Her dear face now rises before me, as she used sometimes to come running downstairs with a stolen pinch of snuff for me, her whole form radiant with the pleasure of giving pleasure. ... In the last short illness, her conduct in simple truth was angelic. She never once complained; never became fretful; was ever considerate of others, and was thankful in the most gentle, pathetic manner for everything done for her. ... When I gave her some water, she said, 'I quite thank you;' and these, I believe, were the last precious words ever addressed by her dear lips to me.' ...

"Annie, it seems, was the Darwin's favorite child. She was bright and talented ('a second Mozart,' Darwin once said) ... and she was an exemplary child, a model of generosity, morals, and manners....

"Only months after his father's death, Darwin had declared his grieving at an end, referring in the letter to 'my dear Father about whom it is now to me the sweetest pleasure to think.' In the case of Annie, no such point was ever reached for either Emma or Charles. Another of their daughters, Henrietta, would later write that 'it may be said that my mother never really recovered from this grief. She very rarely spoke of Annie, but when she did the sense of loss was always there unhealed. My father could not bear to reopen his sorrow, and he never, to my knowledge, spoke of her.' Twenty-five years after Annie's death, he wrote in his autobiography that thinking of her still brought tears to his eyes.

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal, Vintage, Copyright 1994 by Robert Wright, pp. 178-179.


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