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Darwin Correspondence Project


To Robert FitzRoy   [20 February 1840]1

12 Upper Gower St

Thursday 21st

My dear FitzRoy.

I was very glad to receive your long letter— I had been for sometime wishing to hear of you, but did not like to write as I had nothing to communicate, excepting about myself, and that is and has been for some time a very dull subject. My health has been very indifferent during the two last months, and lately it has been rather worse but now I trust I am getting better.— My stomach as usual has been my enemy—but Dr Holland tells me he thinks it is only secondarily affected—and that some other wheel works badly—2 I have been obliged to give up all Geological work which is no slight mortification, but I hope soon to set to work again. If I had had my health, I should have published my coral volume before this time.— I was much interested by your account of the sale of our volumes. I had not before any notion how many had been disposed of but I will now go some day and find out how many remain.— I should think there could not be many. What you mention about the probable profits according to Mr Shoberls estimate appears to me quite absurdly small.—but I dare say it is all we shall ever get from the great man of Marlborough St 3 For my own part I have ceased caring very much about the sale of my volume, the more I see of authorship the more desirable I find it to endeavour to become quite indifferent to the opinion of any excepting one’s friends and a few others.

I am not surprised at our never having met in the Street for I do not go to the west end of the town more than once a week, and I believe I have only seen Hyde Park once during the two last months— I can readily understand how very inconvenient you must find it, living at so great a distance as 20 miles, from your weekly journey’s end— I should think you would find a house near Town much pleasanter; for my own part, I do not think I shall ever venture out even as far as a suburban cottage.— I saw sometime since, a very short abstract, in one of the scientific Journals of a paper by Mr Whewell read at the Cambridge. Philosoph. Soc: giving an account of a new theory of the tides, in which he mentions your views and says his are taken partly from them.—4 The abstract was so brief that I could not understand the new views. I mention this in case you should not accidentally have before heard it.— Sulivan & Usborne5 called on me the other day.— Usborne mentioned your kind exertions in his favour at the Admiralty.— His does certainly appear a peculiarly hard case— As for Sulivan his notions about non promotion being a stigma is quite preposterous—and I hinted to him the other day—plainly that such unremitting self thought was not very graceful in anyone— I have had a note from him from Chalford, in which he tells me that Sir. C Adams6 assured him, that if there had been a marriage” promotion, he would have been included in it,—with this Sulivan appears contented— I hope cordially that he may receive it soon.—

However others may look back to the Beagles voyage, now that the small disagreeable parts are well nigh forgotten, I think it far the most fortunate circumstance in my life that the chance afforded by your offer of taking a naturalist fell on me— I often have the most vivid and delightful pictures of what I saw on board the Beagle pass before my eyes.— These recollections & what I learnt in Natural History I would not exchange for twice ten thousand a year.

I find as you always prophesied would be the case being married, a very great happiness. My wife is perfectly well and begs to be kindly remembered to Mrs FitzRoy—. My little animalcule of a son, William Erasmus by name is also very well. He is 8 weeks old tomorrow, and has learnt to smile about a week since—7 I have nothing to wish for, excepting stronger health to go on with the subjects, to which I have joyfully determined to devote my life— Pray remember me very kindly to Mrs FitzRoy—whom I am glad to hear is well and your children.

Believe me | My dear FitzRoy— | Yours very truly, | Chas Darwin.

I fear you will have more trouble in deciphering this scrawl than it is worth.


Dated from the reference in the letter to William Darwin’s being ‘8 weeks old tomorrow’. William was born on Friday, 27 December 1839. The Thursday on which this letter was written was therefore 20 February 1840, not the 21st, as CD dated it.
Later, in December 1840, Maria Edgeworth wrote to her half-sister as follows: ‘You know that he says he was ill in consequence of the sea voyage—that he was never a single day free from sea-suffering. But Dr. Holland tells us that the voyage was not the cause, only the continuance of his suffering—for that before he went to sea he was subject to the same. His stomach rejects food continually; and the least agitation or excitation brings on the sickness directly so that he must be kept as quiet as it is possible and cannot see any body’ (Colvin, ed. 1971, pp. 571–2). Although CD appears to have told Dr Holland that he had suffered from a stomach ailment before the voyage, there is no reference to such illness in any of his surviving letters of the 1820s. Ralph Colp (1977, pp. 5–6) has inferred such an ailment from two letters from family members to CD (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter from E. A. Darwin, [24 February 1825], and letter from Catherine and Susan Darwin, 4 December [1825]) but neither gives clear evidence of serious stomach trouble of the sort frequently mentioned by CD after 1839.
Henry Colburn, publisher of the Narrative and Journal of researches.
No record of a paper by Whewell that answers this description has been found in the minutes of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. The Report of the 9th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Birmingham in 1839, Transactions of the sections, pp. 11–12 carries an abstract of a response made by Whewell to FitzRoy’s doubts about the views expressed in Whewell 1833, but there is no mention of any debt to FitzRoy.
Alexander Burns Usborne was Master’s Assistant in the Beagle (see Correspondence vol. 1, Appendix III).
Sir Charles Adam, one of the Lords of the Admiralty, 1835–41 (DNB).
See ‘A biographical sketch of an infant’ (Collected papers 2: 191–200), in which CD records that William smiled when 45 days old.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
FitzRoy, Robert
Sent from
London, Upper Gower St, 12
Source of text
DAR 144: 117
Physical description


Poor health has made him give up all geological work.

Profits on their volumes [of Narrative] seem absurdly small.

Looks back on Beagle voyage as the most fortunate circumstance in his life.

Finds marriage a great happiness.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 555,” accessed on 14 February 2016,