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Darwin Correspondence Project

From E. S. Galton   25 March 1879

5, Bertie Terrace | Leamington

March 25th. 1879

A copy of what was written many years ago by me on one of the leaves, inside the cover of the book I have of Mrs. Schimmelpenninck’s life1

E. S. Galton

“As this book gives a false impression of many things, I intend to copy out a letter I wrote to Dr. Dowson on Dr. Erasmus Darwins life, as he quotes largely from Mrs. Schimmelpenninck— E. S. Galton

“(Grand-daughter to Dr. Erasmus Darwin & niece of Mrs. Schimmelpenninck)2

“Feby 20th. 1871. to Dr. Dowson of Whitby”

“Sir, as recently as last week, having had sent to me a copy of your lecture at Whitby in 1861, on Dr. Erasmus Darwin, I must apologize for troubling you with this letter.3 As his Grand-daughter, I have been much interested in reading your lecture upon his life and works, and as I see you are preparing a fuller account, I cannot refrain from expressing our satisfaction that you do not agree entirely with Mrs. Schimpk.— So far from Dr. Darwin being an atheist, I enclose a beautiful poem of his, against atheism.4

“Mrs. Schimpk. had the habit of coloring her facts, till they almost ceased to be true—

“Her eldest Brother, Samuel Tertius Galton (my Father) married Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s eldest daughter, by his second wife, Mrs. Pole—(who is my Mother)—5

“An unfortunate quarrel between Mrs. Schimk & her family, caused a complete cessation of intercourse with them since 1810—and her feelings towards them, which she shewed on various occasions, has evidently influenced her in her description of Dr. Darwin—such as his coarseness and gluttony &c—so very different from the character given him by her Father, Mother Brothers & Sisters, all of whom had so great a veneration for him—

“With respect to her account of the Upas tree Page 207—what may have been said as a joke, between very intimate friends, I know not, but as a child, I was often told of the Upas tree as a fact, & it has been proved to be true (see Mrs. Somerville’s Molecular Science Vol 1. Page 426)6 Mrs. Schimpk was only 24. years of age when Dr. Darwin died. Her life was not published till after my Father’s death, as she outlived him for 12. years—7

“My Aunt, Mrs. Brewin (née Sophia Galton)8 who was only a few years younger than her sister Mary Anne Schimpk. made this remark to me, when I asked her opinion as to Mrs. Schimpks. life ‘They are facts distorted, & give a false impression

“I would rather see my Grandfather’s character drawn by his intimate friends—Watt, Boulton, Edgeworth & Wedgewood,9 who were his co-temporaries & knew him, & spoke of him as he was, than from Miss Seward10 & Mrs. Schimpk., who for private reasons speak of him so differently—” “Miss Seward was well known to be much disappointed, at not being the second Mrs. Erasmus Darwin— I well remember my Grandmother Mrs. Darwin, a sensible & agreeable person

“At the time Miss Sewards life of Dr. Darwin came out, the family were so angry with the false accounts put in, that my mother says, Dr. Robert Darwin (of Shrewsbury) obliged her to contradict many things she had written, in the Reviews of the day— Those reviews are forgotten, & her book remains—11

“I well remember seeing the life of Dr. E Darwin at my Uncle’s (Dr. Robert Darwin of Shrewsbury) many passages were marked by himself, as “false” “Utterly false” &c—

“This book, I fear is lost, or mislaid, as I asked one of the family some years ago, if they had it when Dr. Richardson mentioned, he was collecting anecdotes of Dr. E Darwin12

“My Mother (née Violetta Darwin) the last surviving child of Dr. E Darwin still lives* & has nearly attained her 88th. year. Her mind is perfectly clear, & would gladly answer any questions—

I remain yours very truly | Emma Sophia Galton

To Dr. Dowson”

*that was Feby 20th. 1871 | She died—Feby 12th. 1874— b. 23rd. April 1783— wed March 30th. 1807

P.S. I ought to add, my Mother never saw Mrs. Schimmelpennings life— We purposely kept it from her—knowing how it would distress her—& she never expressed a wish to have it to read—tho’ she read a great deal during the day—

CD annotations

7.1 Mrs. … true— 7.2] scored red crayon
9.1 An … 1810— 9.2] double scored red crayon
9.2 and … Darwin 9.4] scored red crayon
12.4 “Miss … Darwin— 12.5] scored red crayon
20.1 We … to read 20.3] scored red crayon


Life of Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck (Hankin ed. 1858).
John Dowson had written a biography of Erasmus Darwin (Dowson 1861). Schimmelpenninck had depicted Erasmus Darwin as a glutton and a non-believer (see Hankin ed. 1858, 1: 152–4, 178–80, and 237–48).
Dowson may have also sent a copy of his lecture to CD in 1871; CD’s copy, in the Darwin Library–CUL, has ‘6 Dec 1871’ written on the title page.
The enclosure was Erasmus Darwin’s poem ‘The folly of atheism. An ode.’ The poem was published in an anthology of British poetry in 1823 (Scott ed. 1823, pp. 299–301). CD quoted the first four lines of it in Erasmus Darwin, p. 44.
Violetta Darwin was a daughter of Erasmus Darwin and his second wife, Elizabeth; she married Samuel Tertius Galton in 1807 (Darwin pedigree).
See Hankin ed. 1858, 1: 247. Schimmelpenninck implied that Erasmus Darwin had knowingly included false accounts about the upas tree (Antiaris toxicaria) in his notes to The loves of the plants (E. Darwin 1789–91, 2: 89, 149–60). Mary Somerville had described the source of the poison of the upas tree as its milky juice, which contained strychnia (Somerville 1869, 1: 426).
Schimmelpenninck’s memoirs (Hankin ed. 1858) were published two years after her death in 1856. Samuel Tertius Galton had died in 1844. Erasmus Darwin had died in 1802.
Robert Waring Darwin was CD’s father. Seward retracted her allegation that Erasmus Darwin’s second son (also Erasmus Darwin) had committed suicide (see, for example, Edinburgh Review 4 (1804): 236–7 n.).
Benjamin Ward Richardson had contemplated writing a life of Erasmus Darwin (see letter to B. W. Richardson, 14 March 1879).


Darwin, Erasmus. 1789–91. The botanic garden; a poem, in two parts. Pt 1. The economy of vegetation. London: J. Johnson. 1791. Pt 2. The loves of the plants. With philosophical notes. Lichfield: J. Jackson. 1789.

Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]

Dowson, John. 1861. Erasmus Darwin: philosopher, poet, and physician. A lecture to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Whitby. London: H. K. Lewis.

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.

Scott, Elizabeth, ed. 1823. Specimens of British poetry: chiefly selected from authors of high celebrity, and interspersed with original writings. Edinburgh: James Ballantyne and Co.

Somerville, Mary. 1869. On molecular and microscopic science. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


Notes and a copy of a letter written by ESG to John Dowson of Whitby. Expresses her opinion of the biographies of Erasmus Darwin written by Mrs Schimmelpenninck and Anna Seward.

Letter details

Letter no.
Emma Sophia Galton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.14: 15
Physical description
AmemS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11954,” accessed on 4 June 2023,