Archives shed light on Darwin's student days

Sun Mar 22, 2009 8:06pm EDT
 
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By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - With someone to polish his shoes, make his bed and stoke the fire in his spacious rooms, Charles Darwin enjoyed the sort of pampered university life that today's debt-laden British students can only dream about.

Two hundred years after his birth, academics have uncovered new details of his comfortable existence at the University of Cambridge before he embarked on the grueling five-year voyage that would transform science's view of the world.

Six leather-bound ledgers unearthed in the university archives reveal how he lived in the most expensive rooms available to a student of his rank from 1828 to 1831.

He hired a battery of staff to help him with the daily chores, including a scullion (dishwasher), a laundress and a shoeblack (someone who cleans shoes).

A tailor, hatter and barber made sure he was well presented, while a chimney sweep and a coalman kept his fire going. He even paid five and a half pence extra each day to have vegetables with the basic ration of meat and beer at Christ's College.

Darwin scholar Dr John van Wyhe, of the University of Cambridge, said little was known about the scientist's student life before his outgoings were found in the mainly hand-written ledgers detailing students' finances.

"It is just wonderful to have a previously unknown insight into what Darwin was up to in this part of his life," he told Reuters. "These are really intimate details."

The archives were published on the Internet on Monday at darwin-online.org.uk.   Continued...

 
<p>An undated handout photograph released March 22, 2009, shows English naturalist Charles Darwin's name handwritten on newly discovered archives found at the University of Cambridge in eastern England. With someone to polish his shoes, make his bed and stoke the fire in his spacious rooms, Charles Darwin enjoyed the sort of pampered university life today's debt-laden students could only dream about. REUTERS/Cambridge University/Handout</p>