An American in Darwin’s family

Gwen Raverat in Spectator:

In the spring of 1883 my mother, Maud Du Puy, came from America to spend the summer in Cambridge with her aunt, Mrs Jebb. She was nearly 22, and had never been abroad before; pretty, affectionate, self-willed, and sociable; but not at all a flirt. Indeed her sisters considered her rather stiff with young men. She was very fresh and innocent, something of a Puritan, and with her strong character, was clearly destined for matriarchy.

The Jebbs, my great-uncle Dick, and my great-aunt Cara, lived at Springfield, at the southern end of the Backs, and their house looked across Queens’ Green to the elms behind Queens’ College. Uncle Dick was later to be Sir Richard Jebb, OM, MP, Professor of Greek at Cambridge, and all the rest of it; but, at that time, he held the chair of Greek at Glasgow, and so had been obliged to resign his Trinity fellowship and the post of Public Orator at Cambridge. However the Jebbs spent only the winters in Glasgow, and kept on their Cambridge house for the summers, while they waited hopefully for old Dr Kennedy to retire, so that Uncle Dick might succeed him in the Cambridge Professorship. This was the Dr Kennedy who wrote the Latin Grammar, which we all knew very well in our youth, and he had not the slightest intention of retiring; neither was it by any means so certain as the Jebbs chose to consider it, that the succession would fall to Uncle Dick. However, after keeping them waiting for 13 years, Dr Kennedy died in 1889, and Uncle Dick came into his kingdom at last.

The earliest Cambridge that I can remember must have been seen by me in reflection from my mother’s mind, for it is the same picture as that which she draws in a series of artless letters, written to her family in Philadelphia in this summer of 1883, two years before I was born.

Note: This excerpt is from Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece, available in a cloth-bound hardback Plain Foxed Edition of 2,000 copies from Foxed Editions.

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