LAST CIRCUIT OF THE SANDWALK
Your kind, lined face peers into the thinking path. Fifty years, concentrating on millions.
Annie’s ghost dances round the birch you planted. Faith interred with her.
A closing correspondence. Evidence encircling the Earth, reaching kin, collaborators, critics. Your crystal mind the core.
Charting immense horizons of Beagle, beaks, barnacles. Focussed to a final orbit of the Sandwalk. Tracing the elongated ‘O’. Origin.
From the outset I wanted to reflect Darwin’s humanity, as well as the scope of his achievement. Down House in Kent was his home for his final 40 years, where he brought up his children and wrote the masterwork he called Origin. His favourite child died at ten and Darwin wrote movingly of her final days. His letters indicate he most likely became agnostic.
Down was also his laboratory; garden used for experiments, study for dissecting barnacles (his classification of them made his initial reputation).
Visitors to Down can see his study, what remains of garden experiments and tour the Sandwalk. Darwin constructed this oval walk and used it to tackle his most difficult problems. While early drafts concerned the house, the Sandwalk was my ‘way in’. I perceived Darwin standing in it literally looking back on his life, his journey, at its end.
Some 15,000 of Darwin’s letters have been diligently digitised by Cambridge University. The Victorian post was the internet of its day, through which Darwin’s peer reviewed his ideas, contacting hundreds of colleagues worldwide. The language in these letters was most important for me. He defends his ideas, but reiterates friendship and respect.
The final part conveys his crystallising of evidence into his masterwork. His knowledge of geology, botany and zoology permitted him to assemble the evidence and discover the mechanism of evolution, his specimens going back to his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle in the 1830s, finches’ beaks included.