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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   28 May 1880

Trin. Coll. Camb.

May 28. 80

My dear Father,

I received the enclosed wonderful rigmarole a few days ago from Mrs. Noel, & think it wd. amuse you to see it.1 Tho’ it borders on the silly, yet there is something I like about it. I answered back at almost equal length, in great part in an endeavour to explain away yr. treatment of W.A.D., with which she is obviously hurt.2 I said that your information was almost wholly taken from E.D’s correspondence & that W.A.D’s name hardly occurred there, showing that there was but little intercourse between the brothers, & accordingly that you were literally correct in saying “of whom I know nothing”, but I believed you regretted the form & implication thereof & wd. probably modify in a future edit. wh. however wd. probably not be called for. I also said you were anxious not to overburden the book with family details for which sort of statement the public do not care. I hope this will have expressed yr. views fairly well & will have smoothed her down a little. It is strange that she shd. have thought it worth while to send the catalogue of pictures sold, which must have been astonishing rubbish.3 The copies of the poems have come too & are as far as I can judge rather good.4

I have promised to send her copies of the M.S. when I go home & have begun by sending her the printed copy of the Waring Inventory.5 This I also sent to Regd. D. & received the enclosed letter back6   I have her two account books which do not possess much interest; they appear however to contain the original memo. as to the receipts for medical practice wh. you have given in the book.7

I am rather sorry Leo. did’nt ask young Noel over from Chatham once even tho’ he is a beast.8 I seem to have got rather in to the thick of all these cousins & think I must pay a round of visits.

When I was at Glasgow Sir W. introduced me to a man in his Laboratory & said in his impulsive way that I shd. be delighted to show him our laby. here, to which I cd’nt but agree.9 I only saw the man for a minute & shd’nt have known him again. However he inflicted himself on me today. I gave him luncheon & walked him to the laboratory & after I had gone about a little, left him with the demonstrator. I have been so ill today that I had to explain that I cd.’nt go about at all. In fact I have been dosing in an armchair almost all afternoon & am dining in my room.

I really did think yesterday I was better as I did some work for a wonder, but it was only a case of “reculer pour mieux sauter” & I caught it worse than ever at night.10

Last night in hall I sat next a Mr. Gildersleeve Prof. of Greek at the Johns Hopkins University, a pleasant man and (you had better read altho’ to Sara) a Southerner.11 I am almost interested in hearing about America from the S. point of view. This man had been badly wounded & he said he suffered much more from deprivation in private life than he did with the army, showing the straits they were put to.12 After dinner I came across a little Frenchman, a friend of Colvin’s,13 who was rather amusing but somehow my French had run out of the heels of my boots. I’ve since heard that he is one of Gambetta’s14 private secretaries.

Remember me to Miss Ashburner if she is with you.15 I shd. think Sara must enjoy having her here  

I hope Southampton is suiting you & mother.

I’ve not heard whether Frank is going to Brittany or not.16

I suppose H. & Ida will be back tomorrow. They will have to decide on the great house question then.17

Your affectionate Son | G H Darwin

Please return the letters.


The enclosure has not been found. Sarah Gay Forbes Noel was CD’s cousin.
William Alvey Darwin, Erasmus Darwin’s brother, was Sarah Noel’s grandfather.
The catalogue has not been found; it probably listed paintings at Elston Hall, Erasmus Darwin’s birthplace.
The poems have not been identified.
George Howard Darwin had helped CD with the family history for Erasmus Darwin; his manuscript notes on Joseph Lemuel Chester’s genealogy of the Darwin family are in DAR 14: 41. The Waring inventory has not been identified. Anne Waring was Erasmus Darwin’s grandmother.
Reginald Darwin’s letter to George has not been found.
In Erasmus Darwin, p. 25, CD gave details of a memorandum in Erasmus Darwin’s hand listing the profits from his early medical practice in Lichfield.
Leonard Darwin was instructor in chemistry and photography at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham; ‘young Noel’ was possibly James Wriothesley Noel, Sarah Noel’s youngest son.
George had probably visited William Thomson in Glasgow in May 1879 (see Correspondence vol. 27, letter from G. H. Darwin, 10 May 1879 and n. 5). The man in Thomson’s laboratory has not been identified.
The phrase ‘reculer pour mieux sauter’ (French) literally means to draw back to make a better jump.
Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, first professor of Greek at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Gildersleeve had served in the Confederate army during the American Civil War; George’s American sister-in-law, Sara Darwin, came from Massachusetts, which was a centre for progressivist and abolitionist activity in the years leading up to the war.
Gildersleeve was wounded in a skirmish in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864, when a bullet broke his thigh bone and gave him a life-long limp; he later said of the summer 1864 campaign: ‘I lost my pocket Homer, I lost my pistol, I lost one of my horses, and finally I came very near losing my life’ (Briggs ed. 1998, pp. 48–9). Gildersleeve had written about hunger in the midst of luxury, the exclusion of civilians from banquets, the ‘starvation parties’, the rationing of meat in the Confederacy, and his own experience of deprivation during the war (ibid., pp. 167–8, 222–6, 230–4, 410, 413).
Léon Michel Gambetta was a French politician.
Francis Darwin left for Brittany on 31 May 1880 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Ida and Horace Darwin, who had married in January 1880, intended to live in Cambridge, where Horace designed scientific instruments (Cattermole and Wolfe 1987). CD had sent advice about the sort of house that would suit them best in his letter to Horace of 20 April [1880].


Briggs, Ward W., Jr., ed. 1998. Soldier and scholar: Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve and the Civil War. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia.

Cattermole, Michael J. G. and Wolfe, Arthur F. 1987. Horace Darwin’s shop: a history of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company 1878 to 1968. Bristol and Boston: Adam Hilger.

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


Writes of a Mrs Noel, who is annoyed with CD’s neglect of Erasmus Darwin’s brother, W[illiam] A[lvey] D[arwin I], [in Erasmus Darwin].

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trinity College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 84
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12617,” accessed on 23 May 2022,