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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   22 April [1879]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Ap. 22d

My dear Gulielmus2

Thanks for all that you have done for me.— I have looked to Phytologia & the passage is nothing.3

It has just occurred to me that I ought to say a word or two about Dr. Ds political opinions, if I could discover them.—4 He was strong against the American war, is all that I can remember; but it is possible that the address to Dr. Priestly might indirectly show his political opinions.— Please read it under this point of view.— Is the book your own; if so, I could see it when we come to you; otherwise could you copy any likely passages, with dates &c &c on folio paper, written only on one side.5

yours affect | C. Darwin

P.S. I am a good deal overworked & it is possible that we may go to Leith Hill before going to you; but this will only be if I fail so that I cannot work.—6

Please give Title of Priestly’s Book, volumes & date7


The year is established by the references to material relating to Erasmus Darwin; CD’s biography of his grandfather Erasmus was published in 1879 (Erasmus Darwin).
Gulielmus: the Latin version of William.
CD quoted from Phytologia, or the philosophy of agriculture and gardening (E. Darwin 1800) several times in Erasmus Darwin, pp. 111–15 and 117–18.
In Erasmus Darwin, pp. 45–6, CD stated that Erasmus Darwin rarely mentioned politics, but held radical views in that he believed in American independence, welcomed the early stages of the French Revolution, and despised slavery.
Following the Birmingham riots in 1791, philosophers such as Joseph Priestley, who were thought to be supporters of French liberty and opposed to the Church and the monarchy, were attacked and their homes destroyed. Erasmus Darwin, on behalf of the Philosophical Society of Derby, wrote a sympathetic address to Priestley in which he expressed the hope that Priestley would leave the ‘unfruitful fields of polemical theology’ and devote himself to natural philosophy alone (King-Hele 1999, p. 257). The address was published by Priestley in his Appeal to the public on the subject of the riots in Birmingham with a reply in which Priestley asserted his determination to continue both his philosophical and his theological studies (Priestley 1791, pp. 179–80).
CD was away from Down from 6 to 26 May 1879; he visited William and Sara Darwin in Southampton before travelling to Leith Hill Place (‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
See n. 5, above.


Darwin, Erasmus. 1800. Phytologia, or the philosophy of agriculture and gardening. With the theory of draining morasses and with an improved construction of the drill plough. 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.

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

Priestley, Joseph. 1791. An appeal to the public on the subject of the riots in Birmingham. Birmingham: J. Thompson.


Discusses his work on Dr Erasmus Darwin’s life.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 154
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12007,” accessed on 29 May 2023,