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Darwin Correspondence Project

From V. H. Darwin   4 April 1879

2. Park Villas | North Str | Derby.

Fr. Apr. 4. 79.

My dear Cousin,

I am much interested to hear that you are bringing out another Life of Dr. Darwin, I write to say that as there is no Photogrph. of Breadsall Priory, and as I am an artist in a small way, I shall be delighted to make as good a drawing in pen & ink as I can, and with the judicious emendations which are generally made by such woodengravers as your publisher wd. employ, I am sure it would be a pretty view.1

You must not trouble yourself to answer this unless you have some suggestion or wish to express—(much as I shd. value a line from you), and I will forward the drawing before the end of this month, if that will do.2

I wish much that the plate of that beautiful little engraving of Wright’s portrait cd. be found— I only lately discovered that it was by one of the Mr. Wedgwoods, in purchasing it at a chance sale here. I believe it was originally made for “Seward’s Anecdotes”.—3 It would photograph perfectly though, as all prints do. The photos from the original picture are very poor & blotched, & are therefore out of the question.

It is remarkable how the word “benevolent” has always been associated with Dr. Darwin by his friends (almost like the “judicious Hooker!’)4 There is a fine & unusual instance of it in Mr. Edgeworth’s Memoirs. V. 1. p 163–4 and V. 2. p 198—5 Also in the Mems. of Miss Edgworth, published privately— She says, describing a visit to the Priory after Dr. D’s death—“There was a charming picture of him in the room, in which his generous soul appeared, and his penetrating benevolent genius”.—6 vol. 1 p 112   His great Temperance is well known—from the anecdote of his addressing the Nottingham people on the subject7

I must not trespass further, & with kind regards | believe me | yours very sincerely | Violetta H. Darwin

CD annotations

4.1 It is … his friends 4.2] scored red crayon, pencil cross
4.1 associated] underl pencil
4.2 There is … privately— 4.4] scored red crayon
4.5 “There was … genius”.— 4.7] scored pencil


CD was preparing a character sketch of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin to accompany an English translation of Ernst Krause’s discussion of the works of Erasmus Darwin (Krause 1879a). Anna Seward had published a biography of Erasmus Darwin in 1804 (Seward 1804). CD wished to include a woodcut of Breadsall Priory, Erasmus Darwin’s death place, in his sketch (see letter to Reginald Darwin, 1 April 1879). Violetta Darwin was a book illustrator and member of the Anastatic Drawing Society, the purpose of which was to ‘delineate remains of antiquity’ (Anastatic Drawing Society (1858): iii and vi). In 1858, when she was still living at Breadsall Priory, she published a drawing of parts of Breadsall Church and the Priory (ibid., plate 19).
Violetta Darwin’s drawing of Breadsall Priory was used in Erasmus Darwin, p. 125.
Joseph Wright of Derby painted several portraits of Erasmus Darwin (see M. Keynes 1994). The engraving, probably by John Allen Wedgwood, was taken from a portrait painted in 1770 (see letter from Reginald Darwin, 7 April 1879); no portrait is reproduced in Anna Seward’s Memoirs of the life of Dr. Darwin ... with anecdotes of his friends, but she commented on the 1770 painting (Seward 1804, p. 21). CD used an engraving, published by John Raphael Smith in 1797, of one of two versions of a later portrait by Wright of Erasmus Darwin holding a quill as the frontispiece to Erasmus Darwin.
CD gave several examples of Erasmus Darwin’s benevolence in Erasmus Darwin, pp. 34–5 and 60–5. The sixteenth-century theologian Richard Hooker was referred to as judicious by his later followers, who admired his moderation (ODNB).
Richard Lovell Edgeworth recalled Erasmus Darwin’s rescue from a ditch of a drunken man, whom he brought back to his home to care for overnight, only to discover that it was his brother-in-law (R. L. Edgeworth and Edgeworth 1820, 1: 163–4). Edgeworth also mentioned in 1798 that Erasmus Darwin’s expression in a recent portrait obscured his benevolence (R. L. Edgeworth and Edgeworth 1820, 2: 198). CD referred to both stories in Erasmus Darwin, pp. 60–1 and 69.
Maria Edgeworth visited Breadsall Priory in September 1802; Erasmus Darwin had died in April 1802, and the household was in deep mourning (F. A. Edgeworth ed. 1867, 1: 112). The portrait was probably Wright’s 1770 painting, which was sold to CD in 1877 (see Correspondence vol. 26, letter from E. A. Greaves, 3 January 1878; M. Keynes 1994, pp. 70–2).
According to Seward 1804, pp. 64–8, Erasmus Darwin, having uncharacteristically indulged in alcohol during a boating trip with friends to Nottingham, stepped overboard, swam to shore, and walked into the town, where he addressed working men on the benefits of fresh air as well as sobriety; he then returned to his friends and resumed the boat trip. This anecdote appeared in Erasmus Darwin, pp. 58–9, but CD considered the address published by Seward to be her own invention, and suggested that Erasmus Darwin might have been tricked into taking strong drink by his friends.


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.

Keynes, Milo. 1994. Portraits of Dr Erasmus Darwin, F.R.S., by Joseph Wright, James Rawlinson and William Coffee. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 48: 69–84.

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


Is interested to hear of CD’s life of Dr Erasmus Darwin. There is no photo of Breadsall Priory, but she would be happy to make a drawing of it.

Letter details

Letter no.
Violetta Harriot Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.14: 20
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11976,” accessed on 24 September 2023,