My friend Tammy sent me an article from the BBC titled “What you can learn from Einstein’s quirky habits,” subtitled “More than 10 hours of sleep and no socks – could this be the secret to thinking like a genius?” - To which Betteridge’s law of headlines (and I suppose subtitles) surely applies: Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no. It was one of those “geniuses do the darnedest things” type of article, but it was sent to me because of old man Einstein’s walking habits. This is him in Princeton:
The article ran, “Einstein’s daily walk was sacred to him. While he was working at Princeton University, New Jersey, he’d walk the mile and a half journey there and back. He followed in the footsteps of other diligent walkers, including Darwin who went for three 45 minute walks every day.”
I must say I first read that as Darwin doing forty-five walks of 3 minutes each which would have been really off the wall, but he wasn’t quite that eccentric. In fact three walks a day doesn’t strike me as eccentric at all, though it may suggest he had a lot of time on his hands.
Darwin’s son Francis drew up a timetable describing his father’s typical day in middle age and later. One walk before breakfast, one before lunch “starting with visit to greenhouse, then round the sandwalk, the number of times depending on his health, usually alone or with a dog,” then another at 4 pm “usually round sandwalk, sometimes farther afield and sometimes in company.” There was also a fair amount of work, rest, and having his wife Emma read to him.
So yes 3 walks of 45 minutes, more or less, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer. The “sandwalk” also referred to as Darwin's “think path” was, and I believe still is, a gravel track around Sandwalk Wood a piece of land Darwin rented then owned, adjacent to his house. Darwin walked circuits on the path. Today it looks like this:
The sandwalk is only a quarter of a mile round trip, so you could get around it quite a few times in 45 minutes, and apparently Darwin set up a pile of stones at a certain point on the circuit so that he could kick away one of them each time he passed. That way he wouldn’t have to interrupt his thinking by counting the number of circuits he’d done, although you might also ask why he needed to count circuits at all.
I’d have thought somebody would have taken a photograph of Darwin walking but if they did I can’t find one, though there is this fine one of him on a horse:
As for Einstein, the BBC article continues, “No list of Einstein’s eccentricities would be complete without a mention of his passionate aversion to socks. ‘When I was young,’ he wrote in a letter to his cousin – and later, wife – Elsa, ‘I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock. So I stopped wearing socks.’”
Now you and I may have thought that shoes without socks was just an annoying hipster affectation, and definitely no good for walking, but wait, there’s more in the article, “Later in life, when he couldn’t find his sandals he’d wear Elsa’s sling backs instead.” Now this is way more than eccentric, if you ask me.
As you see in the picture above he is indeed wearing what appear to be women’s shoes, although not sling backs, and whether they’re his wife’s or his own or somebody else’s I can’t say. And at other times …