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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin to Charles and Emma Darwin   22 July 1880

Buckingham House | Buxton

Thursday | July. 22 1880

Dear Mother | This also meant for you so please read it aloud

My dear Father,

I return Mr Geikie’s letter which I was very much interested in reading.1 I am extremely glad he wishes to adopt your idea of settlement of the gravel through the melting of snow. I must get his book when it is out, as I shall be curious to see whether he makes any suggestions as to the Celts, and as to the direction which the floods took originally that spread the flints & gravel over the snow; whether it was from the N.W. which would be the direction of the general drainage system when the Solent was a big river.2

I am trudging about here with a hammer & bag & map, and with the help of Ramsay’s capital book one gets a fairly clear idea of the geology; but great areas of carboniferous limestone and millstone grit are rather uninteresting; I hope soon to take a day into a part where the carboniferous & permian are faulted tighter & see if I can make it out; and also I mean to get on the top of Kinder Scout to see the wonderful weathering of the grit.3

The country is disappointing as far as beauty goes, and though the effect of the wide bleak grass hills is fine it is much spoilt by numberless stone walls; the only really pretty part is the deep valley cut by the Wye in limestone which we shall see well in going down to Haddon.4 Miss Ashburner is set on castles so that we are to drive 12 miles to see Peveril’s Peak, tho’ I fancy it is not much of a ruin, her interest in Kenilworth was extreme, and we were so sorry that Sara was not equal to going; but it was wiser not after our tiring day at Stratford; which interested us all four very much.5 I feared we should be plagued with crowds of wretches being shown over the house at the same time, but we most luckily had it all to ourselves; we did not gush or get sentimental, but when on the spot one felt it all the more astonishing that Shakespeare could have written and read all that he appears to have done, and I made Miss A. most indignant by saying that probably after all you were right & that Bacon was the man.6

Sara has consulted a dried up little Scotchman a Dr Robertson,7 who seems not to have much in him, but he wisely orders no physick, and is very cautious in the amount of bathing ordered, which is only to be every other day, beginning at 6 minutes, & not getting beyond 10. It is too cold for sitting out unluckily, and there are hardly any pretty short walks except in the public gardens, but after Droitwich she will be equal to any dullness, and I think the keen air after Southampton mildness will be a wholesome change. I am sure it will brace me up well as I was getting rather flabby.

I went yesterday and called on Reginald D. & found him very friendly & pleasant and hearty, and I much enjoyed seeing all the D. pictures &c; he is evidently deeply interested in the pedigree and all information about the family.8

He seems to be particularly taken with George, and said on several occasions what a first rate fellow he was, he had been alarmed at a Wrangler, and expected a tall thin man in spectacles, and was delighted to find an ordinary mortal who could laugh.9 He has the signs of having been a sportsman & small squire all his life, and has been chairman of the bench here for 20 years or more, so that he is one of the big people here. He & Mrs. D.10 called he today, she is a pleasant old lady & tried to be very friendly, but as I had before explained that S. was not strong & we are a large party, I think they will probably not ask us to dinner.

I am glad to get to know my relations, and also to see the picture of Erasmus which he has which is the finest I have seen.11

Goodbye my dear Father | My love to Mother, you must feel an oddly small party your affect son | WED

Reginald D. seemed really smitten with George

What is it about a bronze of your head12


CD had enclosed the letter from James Geikie, 15 July 1880, with his letter to William of [19 July 1880].
James Geikie’s book, Prehistoric Europe: a geological sketch (Geikie 1881), was published in January 1881, but CD received a copy in November 1880 (see letter to James Geikie, 27 November 1880). Geikie discussed the earlier extent of the Solent and Southampton Water in ibid., pp. 341–2.
William had probably borrowed CD’s copy of Andrew Crombie Ramsay’s The physical geology and geography of Great Britain: a manual of British geology (Ramsay 1878). Ramsay discussed the character of Kinder Scout and the Millstone grit in ibid., pp. 326–31.
The village of Over Haddon in the Peak District is about twelve miles south-east of Buxton.
Peveril Castle is a ruined eleventh-century castle overlooking Castleton, a village about ten miles north-east of Buxton. It was made famous in Walter Scott’s novel Peveril of the peak ([Scott 1823]), as was Kenilworth Castle in his novel Kenilworth ([Scott] 1821). Anne Ashburner, Sara Darwin’s aunt, was visiting from America.
William Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon was a popular attraction. William alludes to the idea, first presented in the late 1850s, that Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by Francis Bacon (see D. S. Bacon 1857).
CD had consulted his uncle Reginald Darwin, who lived in Buxton, when he was working on Erasmus Darwin (see Correspondence vol. 27). George Howard Darwin had provided Reginald with a pedigree of the family and other family papers (see letters from G. H. Darwin, 6 March 1880 and 28 May 1880).
George had recently met Reginald Darwin; Emma Darwin wrote of the meeting, ‘G. came home delighted w. Old Reginald who is quite as jolly as his letters seemed to be’ (letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [11 July 1880]; DAR 219.9: 242). When at university at Cambridge, George had been second in the mathematical honours examination; the position was known as ‘second wrangler’ (Cambridge University calendar 1868).
Reginald possessed two portraits of Erasmus Darwin, one by Joseph Wright and one by James Rawlinson (see Correspondence vol. 27, letter from Reginald Darwin, 7 April 1879).
CD had given permission for the Midland Union of Natural History Societies to award a Darwin Prize and Medal; the medal featured a bust of CD and the reverse showed a branch of coral (see letter from E. W. Badger, 17 July 1880 and n. 4).


Bacon, Delia Salter. 1857. The philosophy of the plays of Shakspere unfolded. London: Groombridge and Sons.

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

Geikie, James. 1881. Prehistoric Europe: a geological sketch. London: Edward Stanford.

Ramsay, Andrew Crombie. 1878. The physical geology and geography of Great Britain: a manual of British geology. 5th edition. London: E. Stanford.

[Scott, Walter.] 1821. Kenilworth; a romance. 3 vols. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Co. and John Ballantyne. London: Hurst, Robinson and Co.

[Scott, Walter.] [1823.] Peveril of the peak. 4 vols. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Co. London: Hurst, Robinson and Co.


Returns Geikie’s letter; is glad he has accepted settlement of gravel through melting of snow. Is trudging around with hammer and bag with help of Ramsay’s book. Describes visits to Kenilworth and Stratford. Sara consulted a physician. Called on Reginald D. and enjoyed meeting relations and seeing picture of Erasmus. Reginald very taken with George.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin; Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
Sent from
Buckingham House, Buxton
Source of text
Cornford Family Papers (DAR 275: 76)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12665F,” accessed on 16 April 2024,