Ruth Padel, a direct descendant of Charles Darwin, here considers his relationship with his beloved wife, Emma Wedgwood, who wrote of him, in 1838, “He is the most transparent man I ever saw and most affectionate. Every word expresses his real thought.” In a note to Charles, composed while she was pregnant and he was working on his Journal of Researches (to be known to the world as The Voyage of the Beagle), Emma reflects on their ongoing discussion of Christian faith and its plausibility alongside his scientific work. Though they were living under the same roof, Emma committed to paper her fears that her husband would not be saved, as Padel documents in the first poem below; as a bonus, we also include the short poem that follows it, telling us what became of that missive.

She Writes Him a Note About Salvation

‘When I talk to you face to face I cannot say
     exactly what I wish.’ Her back aches all the time;
she never goes out. His friend’s wife has died
     in childbirth. ‘You say you are uncertain
about Christian Revelation but your opinion
     is still not formed.’ He’s told her his discoveries:

she’d love him to be right in everything. She’s very afraid
     he’s not. ‘Faith is beyond our comprehension,
not provable in the scientific way you like.
     I believe you sincerely wish to learn the truth.
But there are dangers in giving up Revelation
     and Christ’s offer of eternal life. And in the sin —

I know you will have patience with your own
     dear wife — of ingratitude for His suffering,
casting off what has been done. For you,
     for everyone. I do not wish an answer.
It is satisfaction for me just to write. My fear
     is for the afterlife. I cannot say how happy

you make me in this one, nor how dearly I love you.
     I thank you for all the affection, which makes
my happiness more and more each day.
     But everything that concerns you concerns me.
I should be most unhappy if I thought
     we would not belong to each other for eternity.’
He Leaves a Message on the Edge

He kept her note all his life. He must have said
     something then, but he wrote to her too
              on the outer fold. (No one knows when.
     He was maybe quite old. He wasn’t blind
              to where his thought led, what she thought
     she’d lose.) ‘When I am dead, know
I have kissed and cried over this many times.’
The tiger, the leopard, the elephant are all sacred. What's ...

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