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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   22 November 1877

Trin Coll. Camb.

Nov 22. 77.

My dear Father,

I will look out in the cloisters for worm-castings, but I do not remember ever to have seen any on the pavement.1 The pavement under the library is very uneven, but it is all made ground, and the river used to flow there some 300 years ago   I believe the library is built on logs of wood.2 The staircase at my end of the library & the part of the new court at the other end have settled so much as to crack the walls, which have been strengthened within my memory. I suppose the ground was not so carefully prepared there. I am very glad to see the account of that paper before the Acad. of Vienna as I was intending to use the secular acceleration of the moon’s motion in my work. I find it hard to believe that M. Littrow is correct in having explained it, as it has received so much attention from Laplace Adams & Delaunay.3

I am very glad to hear that you enjoyed your stay here & that the hurly burly was’nt too much for you. I will look at the Cambridge papers when they come out on Sat. & send you copies if there is anything in them of interest4

I shall not come home on Saturday because we have got another of our meetings & I cd. not start until evening,—also I want to get on with my work.

I have been finding out some extraordinary things in the last few days, but have been muddling unprofitably over some long arithmetic of which I know the result as far as it is interesting to know it, but which won’t come quite right. I have hit on a possible fallacy in Sir W. T’s investigation as to the secular cooling of the earth— these tides in it wd. be continually heating it & I think it possible that it might be sufficient to render his calculation of the date of consolidation fallacious by a good deal— however it all depends on numbers & I’ve no conjecture how they will turn out   I can’t take it up now but shd. like to bowl him over.5

Adams Maxwell & Thomson have signed my RS paper & I rather expect Cayley will do so too. Glaisher is going to do so & Jevons will I have no doubt also— So I shall have a grand set of names to back me.6

I have received an invit. to dinner on the 28th at Burn’s to meet the Fawcetts but I met Burn & told him I shd. prob. have to be in London—7 he told me I might leave it open if I liked   I want to know therefore whether there will be any chance of seeing anybody in London on Wednesday & if I cd. find a bed anywhere—altho’ I cd. go to a hotel for that matter. If I shd. see Wm. Hen8 Mother or any of them I wd. not go to this dinner— Also I cdn’t be in London until 10.30 on Thursday & wd. that be in time for the wedding.

I shd. rather like to go to the dinner but am not partic. desirous of doing so & wd. prefer a family gathering in London.

As I shd. like to be able to give an answer soon will Mother send me a telegram as it what she thinks.

I have heard so little of the plans as to the wedding that I cant settle for myself

I had a civil letter from Evans & also from Jas Geikie9

Your affectionate Son | G H Darwin


On the construction of the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge, see McKitterick ed. 1995, especially pp. 39–41. The arcade was supported by inverted brick arches in the foundations, but these were not rediscovered until 1970.
The paper by August Weiler, ‘Die säkulare Beschleunigung der mittleren Bewegung des Mondes’ (The secular acceleration of the mean motion of the moon; Weiler 1877–8), was summarised at the 25 October 1877 meeting of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna by Karl Ludwig von Littrow (Anzeiger der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Classe 14 (1877): 220–2). Pierre Simon Laplace, John Couch Adams, and Charles Eugène Delaunay had also worked on the problem; see Laplace 1788, Adams 1853, and Delaunay 1859. On the problem, and George’s contribution (e.g. G. H. Darwin 1878), see Cartwright 1999, pp. 144–50. George Darwin’s Scientific papers vol. 2 contains his papers on the subject with a preface (G. H. Darwin 1907–16).
CD had visited Cambridge to receive an honorary LLD, staying from 16 to 19 November (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). See letter to G. H. Darwin, 21 November [1877] and n. 3.
The physicist William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) had calculated the age of the earth based on its cooling from a molten ball, concluding that the earth could not possibly have existed with its crust in a similar state as at present for the length of time proposed by geologists (see Thomson 1865 and Burchfield 1990). By the mid-1870s, he was proposing that the age of the earth was approximately 100 million years (C. Smith and Wise 1989, pp. 579–611). On George’s work in relation to Thomson, see Kushner 1993, especially p. 203.
George’s name was put forward for election to the Royal Society of London on 7 March 1878 (Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 27 (1878): 156) and again on 6 March 1879 (ibid. 28 (1878–9): 379) and 1 May 1879 (ibid. 29 (1879): 1); he was elected on 12 June 1879 (Record of the Royal Society of London). As well as those already mentioned in these footnotes, George refers to James Clerk Maxwell, Arthur Cayley, James Whitbread Lee Glaisher, and William Stanley Jevons; all the men he named signed his proposal form (Royal Society archives, EC/1879/13).
Robert Burn had been Francis Darwin’s tutor at Trinity College, Cambridge (Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Robert Burn, 2 December [1865]). Henry Fawcett was professor of political economy at Cambridge; his wife was Millicent Garrett Fawcett. William Erasmus Darwin and Sara Sedgwick’s wedding took place at Trinity Church, Paddington, London, on Thursday 29 November 1877 (London, England, Church of England marriages and banns, 1754–1921 (, accessed 24 May 2016)).
John Evans’s letter to George has not been found; James Geikie’s letter of 20 November 1877, thanking George for a copy of his paper ‘On the influence of geological changes on the earth’s axis of rotation’ (G. H. Darwin 1876b), is in DAR 251: 1905.


Adams, John Couch. 1853. On the secular variation of the moon’s mean motion. [Read 16 June 1853.] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 143: 397–406.

Burchfield, Joe D. 1990. Lord Kelvin and the age of the earth. With a new afterword. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Cartwright, David Edgar. 1999. Tides: a scientific history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Darwin, George Howard. 1907–16. Scientific papers. 5 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Delaunay, Charles Eugène. 1859. Sur l’accélération séculaire du moyen mouvement de la lune. [Read 17 January and 25 April 1859.] Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences 48: 137–8, 817–27.

Kushner, David. 1993. George Darwin and a British school of geophysics. Osiris 8: 196–223.

Laplace, Pierre Simon. 1788. Sur l’équation séculaire de la lune. Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences de Paris (1786–8): 235–64.

Record of the Royal Society of London: The record of the Royal Society of London for the promotion of natural knowledge. 4th edition. London: Royal Society. 1940.

Weiler, August. 1877–8. Die säkulare Beschleunigung der mittleren Bewegung des Mondes. Astronomische Nachrichten 90 (1877): 369–82, 91 (1878): 1–12, 17–29, 33–48.


Will look for worm-castings in the cloisters,

and will send CD items from the Cambridge papers on the honorary degree.

Has hit on a possible fallacy in W. Thomson’s theory of secular cooling of the earth.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trinity College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 62
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11247,” accessed on 4 October 2023,