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Darwin Correspondence Project

From V. H. Darwin   9 April 1879

2. Park Villas. | North Stt | Derby.

Wed. Ap. 9./79

My dear Cousin.

⁠⟨⁠7 lines excised⁠⟩⁠ to Mr. Burroughs. and the “College exercises”—written at 17. & 18 yrs. old— Pray keep the books as long as is quite convenient— the larger one is in my father’s writing—and I think there are some in it that are not in the parchment book—1

I must copy out a few lines from a poem (an imitation of Horace) addressed to Dr. D. by his friend Sir Brooke Boothby because they are an eloquent testimony to his kindness of heart.2

⁠⟨⁠7 lines excised⁠⟩⁠

This is printed in Boothby’s “Sorrows”— also the following Sonnet

Darwin! had mortal science e’er availed

To save from Fate’s irrevocable doom;

Death had not cropped the pride of beauty’s bloom

Nor I my loss with ceaseless tears bewailed—

When the last efforts of thy art had failed

And all my thoughts were wedded to the tomb

Thy mild philosophy repelled the gloom

And bade me bear the ills on life entailed—

Not with vain precepts, which th’unwounded breast

Dictates, at ease, to sufferings never known,

But lenient charms, that calm’d thy soul to rest

When the dire pangs I felt were once thine own,

“That she from woes like mine was ta’en away

And few the sorrowing days I here shall stay 3

This kindness is exemplified also in Wright’s great picture of the “Air Pump”, now in the S. Kensington Mus:. The wise men are intent on their experiments, Mr. Whitehurst is exhausting the receiver, a child hides her face from the pigeon’s distressing fate—& it is Dr. Darwin who reaches a kind hand across the table to pat her shoulder, & points to the bird as if to say it will recover—4

It is curious that Miss Sewards shd. be the only biography we have.5 I know nothing more wonderful than the variety of his genius. Many would have been bewildered by such a compound gift, and in trying everything, wd. have done nothing, but he made his mark in all that he undertook, and his great closely printed Quartos show an almost superhuman energy, written as they were during such a medical career—& he combined with all this learning & labour an uncommon fund of wit—and a great fondness and aptitude for society.6

I shall post this today, but shall not be able to forward the books till tomorrow, for it is a pouring day, and I live some distance from the Ry. Office.7 The view of the Priory is compressed into the size you sent me—and will be very nice when finished & printed.8

Believe me | yours very truly | Violetta H Darwin.

I think that in the Sonnet, where Sir B. B refers to Dr. D’s own experience of sorrow, he must be alluding to the death of his son Charles— the dates bear this out. and we know of no other great sorrow of his—9

CD annotations

2.2 because … heart 2.3] triple scored pencil
5.1 Miss Sewards] ‘(not sole)’ added pencil
5.1 I … society. 5.7] scored pencil
6.2 The … printed. 6.3] double scored pencil
Top of letter: ‘Charity, Sympathy’ pencil
End of letter: ‘Ask Hen. old view of Elston—10 old letter old Book’ pencil


Violetta enclosed letters and verses written by Erasmus Darwin to William Burrow and Samuel Pegge, as well as a manuscript book belonging to Erasmus Darwin (see letter from Reginald Darwin, 9 April 1879 and n. 4). Her father was Francis Sacheverel Darwin.
The lines were from the poem by Brooke Boothby (1744–1824), ‘The first satire of the first book of Horace imitated. To Erasmus Darwin’, published in Sorrows. Sacred to the memory of Penelope, Boothby’s commemoration of his 6-year-old daughter, who had died in 1791 (Boothby 1796, pp. 66–72, lines from p. 71). The poem suggests that Erasmus Darwin treated Boothby’s daughter and it also expands on his regard for the poor as a doctor. CD evidently cut out the lines from the letter in order to quote them in Erasmus Darwin, p. 63. On the importance of the Roman poet Horace in the eighteenth century, see Money 2007.
The lines come from the fourth sonnet in Sorrows (Boothby 1796, p. 10).
Joseph Wright’s painting ‘An experiment on a bird in the air pump’ depicts a demonstration of a vacuum; the removal of air by the pump is indicated by the collapse of a cockatoo in the receptacle. The painting has been owned by the National Gallery, London, since 1863, but it may have been on show in the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in 1879 to accompany a display of scientific apparatus (Burton 1999, p. 120). Wright was a close friend of both John Whitehurst and Erasmus Darwin. See plate on p. 165.
Anna Seward’s memoir of Erasmus Darwin had been published in 1804 (Seward 1804). A later account of Erasmus Darwin had been given by Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck as part of her autobiography (Hankin ed. 1858), but because of the aspersions this cast on Erasmus’s character, the work had been kept from Violetta (see letter from E. S. Galton, 25 March 1879).
Erasmus Darwin’s poetry was published in quarto volumes (E. Darwin 1789–91 and E. Darwin 1803).
Railway office.
Violetta’s drawing of Breadsall Priory (Erasmus Darwin’s death place) was used in Erasmus Darwin, p. 125.
Charles Darwin, CD’s uncle, died in 1778.
No letter to Henrietta Emma Litchfield on this subject has been found. Elston Hall was Erasmus Darwin’s birthplace.


Boothby, Brooke. 1796. Sorrows sacred to the memory of Penelope. London: Bulmer and Co.

Burton, Anthony. 1999. Vision & accident: the story of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A publications.

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, Erasmus. 1803. The temple of nature; or, the origin of society: a poem. With philosophical notes. 2 pts. London: J. Johnson.

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.

Money, David. 2007. The reception of Horace in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In The Cambridge companion to Horace, edited by Stephen Harrison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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


Gives some examples of Dr Erasmus Darwin’s benevolence; will forward some books that may interest CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
Violetta Harriot Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.14: 22
Physical description
ALS 4pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11985,” accessed on 27 May 2022,