Greetings from London! It was quite a day of history and significance for our class. It is not every day that you can say you saw the desk where Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species AND the desk where Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations! That was today for us because we visited the homes of both Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.
In the morning we took a tube to Victoria Station, a train to Bromley South, and a bus to the village of Downe. From the village center, we walked on leafy country roads to Down House, where Darwin lived with his family for forty years. During our visit we had the opportunity to see the house and garden where Darwin worked on his theories of evolution and natural selection. Down House is still very much as it was when Charles Darwin, his wife Emma, and their many children lived there. We were in the rooms that they lived in and were surrounded by their furniture, paintings, and personal possessions. We visited the gardens and greenhouses where some of Darwin’s experiments on plants and insects have been recreated. We also walked the Sandwalk, a quarter-mile stone and sand path where Charles Darwin took regular daily walks until the final weeks of his life. Darwin referred to as his ‘thinking path’. Our visit to this place was especially significant for our group. It was here at Down House that Darwin completed much of the research and experimentation that was the basis of his remarkable scientific thinking and led to the groundbreaking theory of evolution that is now an accepted part of our understanding of the world. This theory has been at the heart of our class’s exploration of human nature.
Also, it rained. Really hard. Really, really hard.
After we returned to London and dried off, we walked to the Charles Dickens Museum which is not far from our flats in Bloomsbury. The museum is the home where Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine moved in 1837, a few months before Queen Victoria began her reign. Charles and Catherine raised three of their ten children in the house and entertained many of the leading figures of the day with dinners and parties. It was in this house that Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby. It is also where he was living when he first achieved international fame as one of the world’s greatest writers. Our guide gave us a wonderful tour of the museum and told us about what life was like for Dickens and his family. We saw their furniture, tableware, portraits, china ornaments, paintings, and even Catherine’s engagement ring. We even saw handwritten drafts from the novels Dickens wrote here, as well as his desk and chair.
This really was a special day for us. We have been studying the life and work of these two influential and unforgettable Victorians all semester, and it was exciting to actually visit the places where they lived with their families, entertained their friends, and created the work they are known for. It was inspiring and, despite the weather, it was a great day. For any student of science, art, and human nature….it does not get much better than this!
Tomorrow we will spend the morning learning more about Dickens and Victorian London during our Charles Dickens’ London walking tour with Dickensian scholar, Dr. David Tucker. In the afternoon we will be traveling to Belgium to continue and expand our study of the Victorians. Cheers from London!