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Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. E. Norton   22 September 1875

Ashfield, Massachusetts

September 22, 1875.

My dear Mr. Darwin,—

I am sorry to have to send you intelligence which I know will cause you regret. Ten days ago our friend Chauncey Wright died suddenly, apparently without suffering, from congestion of the brain.1

He was found in the morning seated at his desk in an easy attitude, unconscious, but still breathing. He died in a few minutes. He had apparently not been in bed during the night, but had been writing. He was busy with an article on your last book,2 which lay open beside him. A week before I had brought down to him from Ashfield a box full of specimens of Drosera which my little girl Sally, knowing his interest in the plant, had secured for him.3 The last letter any of us had from him was a pleasant note to Sally telling her what he had been observing of the habits of the Sundew.

He had stayed with us here for more than a week in August, and had seemed uncommonly well. The last time I saw him was about ten days before his death at Cambridge, when he came to read me the proof of his article in the “Nation” on “German Darwinism,” and to tell me of some changes which he proposed to make in this essay which he had read to me in manuscript some time before.4 I was particularly struck with his animation and his cheerfulness, and with his readiness to be interested in other subjects than that which for the time was chiefly occupying his thought.

I believe that he had contemplated the probability of such a death as it was his good fortune to die by. He had no shrinking from death, and no desire to die. He was far too much of a philosopher to form wishes about life or death. And, so far as he is concerned, there is no reason to regret his death. The prospect of his life was not unclouded. But to his friends his death is an irreparable, lifelong loss. The vigour of his intelligence was not more remarkable than the sweetness of his heart, and the simplicity of his whole nature. The clearness and power of his mind were plain in his work, but only those who knew him most intimately could know how wise and trustworthy his judgment was, not only in matters of philosophy but also in those of practical life, or how generously his wisdom was put at the service of all who sought help from him.

His death, following so soon on that of Wyman,5 is a great blow, not merely to Cambridge, but to the interests of sound thought and scientific inquiry throughout the country. But he was not widely known, and there are but few persons who will know what a great loss we have suffered …

P.S. I ought, perhaps, to add that besides Wright’s interest as a scientific man in your work, he had a strong moral and personal interest in it. Your work was the illustration and exhibition of the spirit which he sought in scientific enquiry. I think that in his late years, he had no greater gratification than the recognition you gave to his work, and the occasional receipt of a letter or note from you.6 He was radically modest, but he was pleased with your expression of interest in or approval of what he wrote. His visit to you was the most prized experience of his stay in Europe, and from that time his feeling toward you was one in which a certain shy affection gave a still deeper character to the complete respect he had long cherished.7


CD discussed Drosera (sundew) in the first part of Insectivorous plants. Sally: Sara Norton.
Wright’s essay ‘German Darwinism’ was published in Nation on 9 September 1875 and reprinted in his posthumously published Philosophical discussions (C. Wright 1877, pp. 398–405).
Jeffries Wyman died in September 1874 (DAB).
CD and Wright had corresponded since 1871 (see Correspondence vols. 19, 20, 22, and this volume). CD had had Wright’s review of St George Jackson Mivart’s Genesis of species (Mivart 1871) republished in London (C. Wright 1871).
Wright visited Down in September 1872 (see Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Thayer 1878, p. 248, and Correspondence vol. 20).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DAB: Dictionary of American biography. Under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies. 20 vols., index, and 10 supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; Simon & Schuster Macmillan. London: Oxford University Press; Humphrey Milford. 1928–95.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Thayer, James Bradley. 1878. Letters of Chauncey Wright with some account of his life. Cambridge, Mass.: John Wilson and Son.

Wright, Chauncey. 1877. Philosophical discussions. With a biographical sketch of the author by Charles Eliot Norton. New York: Henry Holt and Company.


Reports the death of Chauncey Wright: "a great blow … to the interests of sound thought and scientific inquiry throughout the country".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Eliot Norton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Ashfield, Mass.
Source of text
Norton and Howe eds. 1913, 2: 57–9

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10166,” accessed on 15 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23