Henrietta Darwin’s Diary: The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Part Two


In June 1871 Henrietta met Richard Buckley Litchfield, a barrister and lecturer in music at the London Working Men’s College; they were married in the parish church in her parents’ village of Downe, Kent, on 31 August.  The intimate and deeply reflective journal entries from July, which hint at originally unrequited passion, cover the period of their courtship.  Reading at times like teenage romantic fiction, with all the agonies of uncertainty and longing, it also dissects Henrietta’s reasons for choosing to be married in church–a decision she did not reach lightly–and her sadness at leaving her parents.  

– Alison Pearn, Associate Director, The Darwin Correspondence Project

Sunday July 9th. 1871

I want to think why I shd like to be married in a church. I shd. feel a registry office very incomplete. I am quite sure to begin with that it is not because of other people. If no human being was ever to kno I shd still want it. My desire is purely to gratify my own instincts—for instinct I think it is not reason.

I shd not be content at that supreme moment of my life without some mark of its solemnity—some outward & visible sign of the inward & spiritual grace. What other is possible but the church service—& then I feel that its having been hallowed by time makes it a sort of inheritance— it binds me to the rest of humanity to share in the common sacred ceremony—& then of all times I shd long to feel the tie to humanity strengthened—not just at that moment to make another step in cutting myself adrift.

But if it is a false action all these reasons are less than nothing. I cannot feel it. The marriage ceremony seems to me so much wider than the church. It appeals to sentiments common to humanity & its religion is a legacy of time.

My conscience does feel clear, whether it is swayed or not by my desire to make the

same vows in the same fine old language as my forefathers.

Can I vow to love honour & obey— The two last, yes. The first I think so.

Is it love when I think about him day & night—when I wonder what he thinks on every conceivable subject—when I feel my day made bright & happy by one short letter. I want him to take me in his arms & say I shall never leave him— I long for him to strike the match which is to kindle me. The fire is laid but I can’t set it alight. Could I bear to rake it out and leave the grate empty & bare again? I never never could settle down again into the same as I was before It is too late now. I think it is for better for worse.

I can’t help grudging that all the bloom has been rubbed off. If he had walked in some Sunday what exquisite joy it wd have been—all the hopes, the fears, the twinges of joy & the happy dreams all struck down by this thunderbolt. It will not matter afterwards but I grudge to have missed it. The only thing which forces me to doubt is the difficulty I feel in looking in the face leaving my people. It will be giving it up. I can be very much—but it will not be the same. Also my fear of not being good to his relations—starting at once a full blown aunt of about 13 children is serious—especially as they are very poor—but don’t let me dread so much. I have taught myself to fear trouble. What is anything compared to being loved first.

Friday was the most miserable day. I felt too wretched to think & could only go on repeating over & over again that he felt all words of tenderness impossible & that he feared my strength. Oh if he had known under my icy manner how I longed for him just to take my hand just for one moment. How I could almost have flung myself at him to make him do it. He shd know that his having spoken makes it no easier for me to make the advances.

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