Gwen Raverat


Gwen Raverat, the daughter of the Darwins’ son George and Maud Du Puy, described Down House and its grounds as they were in the summers, when Emma Darwin welcomed her children and their families [approximately 1886-1896]. “And as soon as the door was opened, we smelt again the unmistakable cool, empty, country smell of the house, and we rushed all over the big, under-furnished rooms in an ecstasy of joy. They reflected the barer way of life of the early nineteenth century, rather than the crowded, fussy mid-Victorian period. The furnishing was ugly in a way, but it was dignified and plain.” (Raverat, 1952: 142) “But the place of all others, where the essence of the whole house was concentrated, was in the cupboard under the stairs, by the garden door. It was full of ancient tennis rackets, smaller than those we use now; and parasols and croquet mallets, and it was there that the exquisite, special smell of the house was strongest.” (Ibid., 152) [rear of house] [kitchen garden] “I used to go with her [Aunt Bessy] at Down to ‘gather the nosegays‘ for the house; down the long pebbled walk between the tall syringa and lilac bushes all wet with dew, to the kitchen garden, where the roses were imprisoned behind high box borders, near the empty greenhouses, where my grandfather had once worked. We took the wooden trug full of flowers, which smelt sweeter than any other flowers in the world, back to the house, and arranged them in water on a green iron table, in the Old Study, where the Origin of Species had been written.” (Ibid., 147-148) “On the lawn were two great yew trees, and the swing hung between them; I adored their magic, open-ended, scarlet berries; and at the top of the lawn stood a Spanish chestnut, which sometimes had chestnuts almost big enough to eat; under this tree was the mysterious Earthworm stone, which had been put there by my grandfather, with an apparatus to record how fast the earth-worm castings would cover it up.” (Ibid., 161) [lawn] [sandwalk] “Of all places at Down, the Sandwalk seemed most to belong to my grandfather. It was a path running round a little wood which he had planted himself; and it always seemed to be a very long way from the house. You went right to the furthest end of the kitchen garden, and then through a wooden door in the high hedge, which quite cut you off from human society. Here a fenced path ran along between two great lonely meadows, till you came to the wood. The path ran straight down the outside of the wood–the Light Side–till it came to a summer-house at the far end; it was very lonely there; to this day you cannot see a single building anywhere, only woods and valleys.” (Ibid., 156-157)

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