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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Reginald Darwin   4 April 1879


April 4, 1879.

My dear Cousin,

I have been deeply interested by the great book which you have so kindly lent me.1 Reading and looking at it is like having communication with the dead. I will venture to keep the book for a week or 10 days longer, as my son George is greatly interested about all old things and will return it in a few days from Algiers.2 The book has taught me a good deal about the occupations and tastes of our grandfather. I have copied out the address to an atheist,—the hymn,—part of a letter about a case of infanticide,—the agreement with Bolton which I suppose was a joke,—professional income at Lichfield and some doggrel verses about a hare hunt. I cannot tell at present what I shall like to insert in my preliminary notice; but if at the time it seems desirable should you object to my using any of the above specified extracts? I fear it would be too absurd to use the doggrel verses, which bring in Erasmus when 9 years old.3 I have two questions to ask:–

The Galtons have told me a curious story about a jockey coming to our grandfather at night in Newmarket, did you ever hear Sir Francis tell this story?4 Our grandfather was certainly on the road to Margate and I cannot make out why he should have passed through Newmarket; can you throw any light on this?

I suppose you do not know whether our Grandfather went to Edinburgh when Charles died there: I ask because late in life he sent to my Father a cypher woven out grass collected on Charles’ tomb; and I want to know whether he gathered the grass himself.5 Many thanks for your offer of a photograph of the house in Full St.; but I think it would be sufficient to give the two drawings before alluded to.6 I have a rough drawing of the Priory copied by Mrs Bort from a lithograph by Miss V. Darwin; and if I could borrow this lithograph, it could be reduced and engraved and would do very well.7 I have been much amused by many of the scraps at the end of the book which you depreciate: I was once at Sydnop and this makes me feel all the more interest about the place.8

With many thanks. | Yours affectionately | Charles Darwin

P.S. What a curious story that is about the Cotton M.S. I will get George to go to the Br. Mus. and try to discover the entry.9


Erasmus Darwin’s Commonplace book (Down House MS; see letter to Reginald Darwin, 1 April 1879).
The copyist probably made a slip and wrote ‘return it’ rather than just ‘return’; George Howard Darwin arrived back from Algiers, where he had been since late January, before 17 April, when he left Down for Cambridge (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
CD included all these items in the first version of his sketch of Erasmus Darwin’s life; three copies of these first proofs exist in DAR 210.11: 45–7, and this version is reproduced in King-Hele ed. 2003. However, Henrietta Emma Litchfield edited this version before publication, and only the extracts from Erasmus’s ode on the folly of atheism, his letter about infanticide, the humorous agreement with Matthew Boulton, and the records of his income from his medical practice in Lichfield, appeared in Erasmus Darwin, pp. 25–6, 28–9, 43–4, and 121.
The story of Erasmus Darwin being woken at night in a Newmarket hotel to be given a betting tip by a jockey whose seriously ill mother had been treated kindly by Erasmus was published in Erasmus Darwin, pp. 63–4. Elizabeth Anne Wheler, a sister of Francis Galton, first told CD the story in her letter of 25 March 1879; Francis Sacheverel Darwin was Reginald’s father.
Erasmus Darwin did travel to Edinburgh and reached the city before his eldest son, Charles Darwin, died (Erasmus Darwin, p. 83; King-Hele ed. 1981, p. 87). It was probably his second son, Erasmus, who collected the grass from Charles’s tomb to make a plaited cross; it was found in his possession at the time of his death in 1799, and given to CD’s father, Robert Waring Darwin, in April 1802 (Erasmus Darwin, p. 76; King-Hele ed. 1981, p. 89).
See letter from Reginald Darwin, 2 April 1879. In the letter to Reginald Darwin, 1 April 1879, CD had mentioned that he thought he would include woodcuts of Elston Hall and Breadsall Priory (the birth and death places of Erasmus Darwin) in his biographical account.
The lithograph was made by Violetta Harriot Darwin. The copy was made by Ann Boott (née Haden), who, before her marriage, was a neighbour of Erasmus Darwin in Full Street, Derby. The copyist wrote ‘?Boot’ in the margin opposite the mention of ‘Mrs Bort’.
Sydnope Hall near Matlock, Derbyshire, was purchased by Francis Sacheverel Darwin, Reginald Darwin’s father, in the 1820s, and sold after his death in 1858 (‘Sydnope Hall’, Historic England, (accessed 9 August 2017)). CD had visited Sydnope with his cousin William Darwin Fox when they were Cambridge undergraduates (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to W. D. Fox, 31 January [1858] and n. 9). Among the newspaper clippings stuck in the back of the Commonplace book by Reginald Darwin, there are two taken from the Derby Mercury of 25 March and 8 April 1874, describing Francis Sacheverel Darwin’s life at Sydnope Hall and the hunt he organised in 1837 to kill the last wild boar of his herd. Reginald Darwin felt that he had ‘desecrated’ Erasmus Darwin’s Commonplace book by pasting in later newspaper cuttings (see letter from Reginald Darwin, 29 March 1879).
At the beginning of the proofs of the first version of the preliminary notice of Erasmus Darwin, CD mentioned in a footnote that a rare book on the history of Lichfield, found by a Mr Darwin in the thatch of a house and presented to the antiquary Robert Bruce Cotton (according to an inscription by Cotton), was in the Cotton collection in the British Museum (DAR 210.11: 45–7; King-Hele ed. 2003, p. 7). George Howard Darwin visited the British Museum to transcribe Cotton’s inscription (King-Hele ed. 2003, p. 100). In DAR 210.11: 45, the sections to be omitted are marked in red crayon, but the footnote about Cotton’s book and the paragraph to which it refers has not been marked; evidently CD decided to leave them out later.


King-Hele, Desmond, ed. 1981. The letters of Erasmus Darwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Has been "deeply interested by the great book" [see 11966]. Asks permission to publish extracts.

Did Dr Darwin go to Edinburgh when his son, Charles, died? Asks whether RD has ever heard a story about Dr Darwin that had been told to CD by the Galtons.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Reginald Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 153: 97
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11977,” accessed on 27 January 2022,