skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Leonard Darwin   [before 12 July] 18791

Brompton Barracks | Chatham


Dear Father

I have read over the proofs pretty carefully, but not with the view of criticism in detail, only for general impressions, and I will give you my opinion as to what is best to be done, though I dont know that it is worth much. I think that a certain amount is not of sufficient interest for publication, but that if reduced by 20 pages or so it would do excellently as either a preface, or concluding remarks or notice, and that this would probably make it of less size than Krause’s article, which would be another advantage.2 But at present it gives me the impression; that though each sentence is right in itself, that sufficient work has not been bestowed on the general arrangement. You say yourself that you are unwilling to spend much more time on it, and naturally as you have so much more work on hand; but if worth doing at all it is worth doing well. Now could you not allow Henrietta to take one set of proofs, cut them up, and provisionally rearrange them; work which I am sure she could do very tastefully and well, and with little fatigue. It would probably be done by the time you got to the Lakes, and then you could read it over, reject it alltogether, or adopt part or all of her rearrangements.3 It would only be necessary to interpolate a few of her own words, and these you could rewrite when you liked.

But what I also strongly feel is that all your children, and children’s children will much regret if a few copies are not kept without anything being cut out. You will naturally think of the expense and trouble

I know something of printing and I am certain that you greatly exaggerate both as far as the paging and printing are concerned. Your own work is much more to be considered, but I honestly feel certain that it need not take you five minutes if you will adopt the plan I propose. Let me call on Murray and arrange it.4 I should think we could have a simple title page something like the following printed.—

Notes on the Life of

Dr. Erasmus Darwin


Charles Darwin FRS &c.

Uncorrected Copy

Only printed for circulation

amonst Relatives.

We all want to save you trouble and I think you might often save yourself if would learn to work us a little more.

As to the parts to be cut out I have little to say. I agree with Henrietta that it would be better to leave out all questions of heredity as it is not a scientific notice, and in such a book these allusions will certainly be misunderstood by 99 readers out of a 100. This will cut out the early Darwins who were not after all much above the average if at all; but I think a good deal about the sons is interesting enough to remain in. I should advise omitting the note at the bottom of page 2, the verse on page 10, the last para but one in the book, also the headings such as “Conversation” Religion, Moral Qualities. I think would be well to shorten the calumnies and the defence5

I will keep the proofs until you tell me where to send them.

Your affec son | L Darwin.

P.S I have had an estimate made and the actual cost of arranging and printing 50 Copies would be about £5"10"0 or £11. allowing 100 per cent for the various profits.

P.S 2 Please tell Mother that I shall not be home next Sat. as I am going to the Frasers at Wimbledon.6 Enclosed is note from Coniston.7

CD annotations

1.1 I … much. 1.3] crossed blue crayon
1.3 I think … preface, 1.5] scored red crayon
2.1 But … printed.— 3.5] crossed blue crayon
5.1 As … all; 5.5] crossed blue crayon
5.5 I should … 10, 5.6] scored blue crayon
5.6 verse … 10,] underl blue crayon
5.7 also … Qualities. 5.8] double scored blue crayon
5.8 I … defence] scored blue crayon
8.2 allowing … Coniston. 9.2] crossed blue crayon


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Leonard Darwin, 12 July [1879]. The date written by Leonard was most likely a slip of the pen, although the ‘11’ is probably correct for the day.
Leonard was reading proof-sheets of CD’s essay for Erasmus Darwin. Ernst Krause had suggested lengthening his own section of the book rather than having CD cut anything (letter from Ernst Krause, 10 July 1879 and n. 9).
CD’s daughter Henrietta Emma Litchfield had helped in editing many of his earlier books (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 19, letter to H. E. Darwin, 20 March 1871, and Correspondence vol. 22, letter to H. E. Litchfield, 21 [March 1874]). The Darwins were planning a vacation in the Lake District; they stayed in Coniston from 2 to 27 August 1879 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
John Murray was CD’s publisher.
CD had asked George Howard Darwin to investigate some of the early Darwin ancestors (see letter from G. H. Darwin, 24 June 1879). For the omitted sections in the published version, see King-Hele ed. 2003.
Leonard planned to visit the home of a fellow officer, Thomas Fraser, at 7 Homefield Road, Wimbledon. Fraser’s sister Elizabeth Frances Fraser married Leonard in 1882 (Freeman 1978).
The enclosure has not been found but evidently related to CD’s vacation (see n. 3, above).


Erasmus Darwin. By Ernst Krause. Translated from the German by W. S. Dallas, with a preliminary notice by Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1879.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

King-Hele, Desmond, ed. 2003. Charles Darwin’s ‘The Life of Erasmus Darwin’. First unabridged edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Suggests revisions in proofs of Erasmus Darwin.

[Letter wrongly dated Nov by LD.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Leonard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Brompton Barracks, Chatham
Source of text
DAR 92: B7–10
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12160,” accessed on 22 May 2022,