English Heritage, like the National Trust, maintains the homes of English writers. They serve as walk-in memorials and attract countless thousands of pilgrims a year.
The English are island people. We look out at the world as a separate thing, which we can visit before we come home. An English writer’s room is akin to that. A garden is outside, dim English light filters into the room, where the writer sat and conjured tales that reach around the globe.
Charles Darwin was a scientist but most visit his home to find the writer. The Origin of Species subverted the world’s view of itself. That’s what a great writer does. Pilgrims stand, subdued, and look at the chair where it was written, the great man drawing the writing board across his knee.
Upstairs there are exhibition rooms. That’s fine, but that’s not what we want. We have come to enter the domestic round of the man’s life, to see the books in his study and the setting on his dining table.
An apple orchard grows beside the main path. Gardeners are planting it to include the varieties Darwin knew in his time. At the far end of the property is Darwin’s walk, a woodland loop he circuited for his daily exercise. Most visitors don’t reach that far. And in the long Victorian greenhouse boxes of seedlings grow, such as Darwin loved and tended when he walked its aisles. Every spring they sprout, memorializing Darwin anew.