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Darwin Correspondence Project

From E. A. Wheler   25 March 1879

3 Bertie Terrace Leamington

25 Mch. 1879

My dear Cousin,

Francis has sent your letter to me, & I am very glad you are going to add a preface to my gdfather Darwin’s life & undo Miss Seward & Mrs. Schimmelpenigs untrue remarks.1 How pleased my dear Mother would have been, had she been living!2

I have no letters, & fear I can help you but little. Reginald Darwin must have several, & I should think Keir Moilliet Esqre. Cheyney court, Bishops Frome. Bromyard, would have many, written to his gt grandfather, Mr. Keir, who was one of the Lunar Society.3 Also Lord Belper must have some written to Mr. Wm. Strutt.4

My Mother always spoke of her Father with the utmost reverence & affection, his refined & agreeable manner & his kindness to his children. He had no teeth in his head, & was very fond of milk & any thing made of milk cream cheese & such like, but I am sure my Mother would have been shocked at Mrs. Schimmelpenigs account of his greediness, & would have contradicted it at once. He stammered very much. Mr. Edgeworth in his life speaks of my grandfather in a very gratifying way, & corroborates much my mother has told us of him.5 The letter he was writing when he was taken ill & died, was to Mr. Edgeworth. I can tell you a few anecdotes which may amuse you, tho’ I fear of no other use.

My grandfather Mr. Galton who had the highest opinion of Dr. Darwin in every way, requested him to go to Margate to see his eldest Daughter who was ill.6 He went, & on his way slept at Newmarket where the races were going on, the Inn very full & noisy. In the middle of the night he heard his door open softly, & a man entered, came to his bedside & made him a sign to be silent. He then said “Dr. Darwin I am the Jockey who is to ride the favourite Horse tomorrow, & upon whom large bets are laid, you once saved my wife’s life when very ill with a fever, & I can now shew you my gratitude, make any bets you please against the favourite Horse, for we Jockies have settled he shall not win. My gdfather thanked the man & requested him to leave the room. He continued his journey to Margate the next day, & on his return thro’ Newmarket he asked which Horse had won, & was told that, to the surprise of everyone, the Horse that was thought sure to win, & on whom thousands had been bet, had failed just at the last, & come in third or fourth.

Another time Dr. D. was riding on a lonely road to Nottingham to see a Patient late in the Even.g. A suspicious looking man rode past him, & then went slowly for Dr. D to pass him. This happened once or twice. At last Dr. D said “A fine Even.g Sir” or something of that sort. The man made a short reply & rode away. The next day a man was taken up on that very spot for robbing some Traveller. Dr. D. had the curiosity to go to the prison & found it was the very man who had passed him the day before. & on asking why he had not robbed him the man replied “I had intended to do so, but thought it was you, & when you spoke I was sure. you saved my life many years ago, & nothing would induce me to rob you.7

My gdfather used to drive in his “Sulky” & an old Horse “Doctor” used to follow behind with a saddle on, without being fastened in any way, & when the road was too bad for the carriage, he got out & rode upon Doctor. This Horse lived to a great age & was buried at the Priory.”

When my gdfather was a young man he & his three Brothers all went to Cambridge at the same time—a great expense to their Father. These young men lived as carefully as they could, They each attended different Lectures & then repeated them to their Brothers. They also mended their own clothes & my gdfather often boasted to my mother that if she cut the heel out of a stocking he could put a new one in without missing a stitch.8

Last year some alterations were made in Breadsall Church & the Darwin coffins were exposed9   My gdfather’s coffin had burst open & his remains were visible & in perfect preservation   He was dressed in a purple velvet dressing gown & his features unchanged.

One more anecdote I have heard my Mother tell. When my gdFather took his son (your Father)10 to settle him at Shrewsbury, when taking leave of him he remembered he had forgotten to give him any money. He gave him £20 which was all he had about him & said, “Let me know when you want more & I will send it to you” your Father got into practice immediately & never wrote to his Father for more money.—

Mrs. Schimmelpening was my Aunt. She had the unfortunate habit of distorting what was true & making a false impression on those about her. & this is very evident in what she says of Dr. Darwin. My gdfather & gdmother Mr. & Mrs. Galton had the highest respect & estime for Dr. Darwin & thought him perfect in every way. The two families were very intimate with each other   Both my gdfathers belonged to the Lunar Society.11

I hope you are well & with kind remembrances to your wife & Daughter12 Believe me | yrs. very truly, | Elizth. Anne Wheler

CD annotations

1.1 Francis … Mr. Wm. Strutt. 2.4] crossed red crayon
4.1 My grandfather Mr. Galton] scored red crayon
7.2 These young men … stitch. 7.6] crossed ink; ‘1878’ added pencil


See letter to Francis Galton, 22 March 1879 and nn. 2 and 5; Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck was Wheler’s aunt. Her remarks on Erasmus Darwin were made in her autobiography (Hankin ed. 1858). CD’s long introduction to Erasmus Darwin (a translation of Ernst Krause’s revised version of his essay, Krause 1879a) contradicted Anna Seward’s negative portrayal of Erasmus Darwin in Seward 1804.
Violetta Galton was a daughter of Erasmus Darwin.
Reginald Darwin was a grandson of Erasmus Darwin. James Keir Moilliet was a great-grandson of Erasmus Darwin and also of James Keir. Darwin and Keir had met as medical students at Edinburgh and became lifelong friends (ODNB s.v. Keir, James). They were members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a small club of pioneering natural philosophers, doctors, and manufacturers (for more on the Lunar Society, see Schofield 1963 and Uglow 2002).
Edward Strutt, first Baron Belper, was the son of William Strutt, who, with Erasmus Darwin, was a founder member of the Derby Philosophical Society (ODNB s.v. Strutt, Jedediah).
For Schimmelpenninck’s remarks about Erasmus’s gluttony, see the letter to Francis Galton, 22 March 1879 and n. 5. Richard Lovell Edgeworth had mentioned Erasmus Darwin frequently in his memoirs, describing him as intelligent and benevolent (R. Edgeworth and Edgeworth 1820, 1: 164).
Wheler’s paternal grandfather was Samuel Galton; Galton’s eldest daughter was the future Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck. Margate, a town on the Isle of Thanet in north-east Kent, was a popular seaside resort for convalescents (Walton 1983, pp. 11–20).
Both the story of the jockey’s tip and the story of the robber were included in Erasmus Darwin, pp. 63–5.
Erasmus Darwin and his brother John Darwin matriculated at Cambridge in June 1750; their eldest brother, Robert Waring Darwin (1724–1816), had matriculated in 1743 (King-Hele 1999, p. 10). CD included the stocking anecdote in Erasmus Darwin, p. 12.
Erasmus Darwin was buried at All Saints’ Church, Breadsall, under the nave floor; alterations to the church were carried out in 1877 (Redman 2005, p. 369).
Robert Waring Darwin (1766–1848).
Samuel Galton and Erasmus Darwin were both members of the Lunar Society (see also n. 3, above); Galton’s wife was Lucy Galton. Wheler later recalled the anecdotes in this letter in her manuscript memoir, which she wrote in 1905 at the age of 97 (CUL MS Add.8691, pp. 5, 12–14).


Edgeworth, Richard Lovell and Edgeworth, Maria. 1820. Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Esq. begun by himself and concluded by his daughter, Maria Edgeworth. 2 vols. London: R. Hunter; Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy.

Erasmus Darwin. By Ernst Krause. Translated from the German by W. S. Dallas, with a preliminary notice by Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1879.

Hankin, Christiana C. ed. 1858. Life of Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck. 2 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts.

King-Hele, Desmond. 1999. Erasmus Darwin. A life of unequalled achievement. London: Giles de la Mare Publishers.

Krause, Ernst. 1879a. Erasmus Darwin, der Großvater und Vorkämpfer Charles Darwin’s: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Descendenz-Theorie. Kosmos 4 (1878–9): 397–424.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Redman, Nicholas. 2005. Coda: Midlands memorabilia. In The genius of Erasmus Darwin, edited by C. U. M. Smith and Robert Arnott. Aldershot, Hants, and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate.

Schofield, Robert E. 1963. The Lunar Society of Birmingham. A social history of provincial science and industry in eighteenth-century England. Oxford: Clarendon Press of Oxford University.

Seward, Anna. 1804. Memoirs of the life of Dr. Darwin. London: J. Johnson.

Uglow, Jenny. 2002. The lunar men: the friends who made the future, 1730–1810. London: Faber and Faber.

Walton, John K. 1983. The English seaside resort: a social history 1750–1914. Leicester: Leicester University Press.


Regrets she has none of Dr Erasmus Darwin’s letters. Relates some anecdotes concerning her grandfather.

Letter details

Letter no.
Elizabeth Anne Galton/Elizabeth Anne Wheler
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.14: 16
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11953,” accessed on 21 June 2024,