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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Wallis Nash   4 January 1880

Corvallis. Oregon

4th. Jany 1880.

Charles Darwin Esqre

My dear Sir

I have been for a long while promising myself the pleasure of writing to you— I would not have imposed a long letter on you had I not known that you had more than one secretary at hand to read it to you: and certainly not with any idea that you should be bound to answer it in person— But I wish, & hope, that you may devolve the answering it on your son Frank,1 from whom I shall look for a letter. And now, where to begin? Why, with the ancient formula, that I hope this will find you well, as it leaves us at this present. For we are all well, in spite of the violent variations of temperature for the last week or two. Observing people here say that extremes of temperature here are getting more marked year by year, the country losing its repute among the early settlers for equability, & this though the Japan or Pacific current has not changed its course so far as mariners observe, & still strikes our shores, & there has been no activity among the volcanic summits of the Cascades. I believe the observation to be correct, & only wonder if the gradual thinning out of the forests accounts for it. Two days before Christmas the frost set in suddenly: on Christmas Eve the thermometer registered 26 degrees of frost, & so stood each night for nearly a week, & then the cold left us as suddenly as it came on & the three inches of snow which covered the fields vanished— The sudden cold struck the wild geese & ducks, which swarm round us, almost but not quite by surprize. They seemed to have about two days notice, for they took flight Southwards in long Vs by hundreds at a time: we noticed their loss without putting it down to the proper cause— They came back, to gladden our sportsmen’s eyes as soon as the frost went. The small birds became as tame as they do in England in frost, & we had a large congregation to gather up the crumbs under our windows— It was curious to see the American cousins of the finches and thrushes so familiar at home.

We find from a good many questions and observations in our home letters that friends are expecting us to be beginning to be tired of our new life; to be homesick; to be planning our return; & they seem surprized that we should continue to be happy here. For happy we are— We are contented to get our Spectator, & Pall Mall Budget, & Punch, and Illustrated News,2 and Field three weeks old: and having so many people about, & each with so many correspondents we seem to be always in communication with home. But the sound of the commotions & excitements of public affairs in England seems dulled and distant, & the impression is that of patients who have struggled through some epidemic & see and know of their friends still fighting and fevered. Politics here we have none of. Our inflexible rule is non-interference—& hitherto we have resisted every seduction to declare ourselves Democrats or Republicans, or Greenbackers, or Know-nothings,3 or anything— Local interests we have in plenty, and do what we can for school, & college, and church, and temperance Society. Our neighbours have been very kind: they have not shewn any signs of jealousy, whilst we are very much on our guard against exclusiveness, which is the one thing they would resent. You would smile, or Mrs. Darwin would, to see Mrs. Nash4 pay a call at her Grocer’s or linendraper’s house. She is warmly welcomed by the lady of the house, who well nigh pushes her into a (rocking) chair, & seizes her cloak & bonnet, saying “Sit right down, & take off your things”— “How is your health?” “How is Mr. Nash: how is his health?” How do you like this “country?” And so on through a long string of stereotyped questions, now as familiar as the Catechism. And then the contrast between the dowdy, dressing gowny style of costume in their homes, and the spick & span, kid glove and new bonnet appearance with which they come here.

Some of the men, notably one or two of the college professors are very intelligent; & one or two of the doctors round about have read & still think a good deal. It is a surprize to me to find that socially the lawyer is considered to stand several degrees above the doctor. I can find no justification for it. Hitherto we have lived in our own well furnished, comfortable house only a mile from the town—with no lack of shops, and only too many visitors— But as soon as the season will permit us we shall move out for the summer to our “ranch” in the hills, 25 miles off, & between this & the sea. It is a valley, about 3000 acres in extent; quite among the mountains; with one main stream or “creek” running its whole length, & several smaller lateral brooks. Plenty of beaver live there now, & seem to have done so for many years past. Their roads between one stream & the next, & their dams are models of Engineering— Having had a good sized log house built (of cedar), on the banks of the stream, on a rising ground looking South West down the Valley, & having fenced & planted our orchard & garden the time of the masculines will have to be spent in bush clearing, & fencing, & grass seed sowing, & riding round after the cattle: the feminines will have the care of the house & children, assisted by our pet Chinaman, Charlie. I expect that all, children in particular, will enjoy the life to the full. We shall be surrounded by wild flowers & shrubs: the valley is rich with vegetation. The wild animals make it now their favorite home, the deer tracks cross & recross the hill sides everywhere like the sheep tracks one sees on the South Downs. A curious experiment is being worked out in our neighbourhood now. The fern is the herdsman’s great enemy; the brake grows on the hill sides & tops four & five feet high, & in the dells eight & nine feet high. It has beaten all the grasses that have been tried, until they have got the “mesquit”5 from Mexico & Southern California during the last two years. The folk burn the fern in January or February & then sow the mesquit on the ashes. The young grass & the fern start together & the grass ousts & overcomes the fern— I have seen many acres now covered with a thick grass carpet or sod, free from fern, & where the grass is now pushing its way out beyond, into the unburnt fern. It grows a thick, succulent, blue green, herbage on which the cattle thrive & which gives a good sweet hay.

My paper is full, but my topics only begun: I should dearly like a long talk, for I know you would ask many questions of us, and there are, oh so many things, on which I would be so glad to get your replies— If one were but a botanist, & a zoologist, and a geologist! Mrs. Nash means to write Mrs. Darwin a long letter very soon in reply to one which she was very glad indeed to get. She sends her love to you all.

And I am My dear Sir | Yours most truly | Wallis Nash

Charles Darwin Esqre.


The Spectator, Pall Mall Gazette, Punch, Illustrated London News, and Field were all weekly magazines.
The Greenback Party was a US political party founded in 1874 in opposition to gold-backed currency; the Know Nothing party was a political party founded in the 1850s in opposition to immigration (EB 27: 703, 721).
Mesquite grass is Hilaria belangeri.


EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.


Reports on the comfortable life of an immigrant in Oregon.

Letter details

Letter no.
Wallis Nash
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Corvallis, Ore.
Source of text
DAR 172: 4
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12400,” accessed on 25 June 2022,