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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. H. Darwin   27–8 February [1881]1

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

Feb. 27th | Sunday

My dear old George.

We came here on Thursday & have seen lots of people, but there is nothing especial to tell.2 Uncle Ras, whom I have seen twice is steadily progressing (Monday, he had a worse day yesterday) though very slowly: he now sits up in his bed-room for some hours in the afternoon & is very cheerful.3 We received your last letter last night.4 It is wonderful what a number of people you have become acquainted with. I have always heard what a bore it is that there are no nice walks. Thanks for looking out for castings.5 It is hopeless where the soil is dry.— Perhaps you may see some whenever you go into the interior. I remember that the Lyells were charmed with the inland & lofty parts of the island.6 We came up at this particular time that I might attend Burdon Sandersons Lecture at R. Inst. on the movements of plants & animals compared.7 He gave a very good lecture, but by a most ridiculous mistake his preliminary part was so long that he never got to plants—the very object of the Lecture—& had to shut up without saying a word about them. I was received with great honour & placed by De le Rue along side the chairman & was applauded on my entrance!8

One experiment was very striking—the measurement of the rate of transmission in man of the order to move a muscle, & it took about 1200th of a second—the distance being a little over 1 foot.

I have been trying to have an interview with D. of Argyll, who wrote 2 most civil notes to me, dated “Privy Seal Office” & saying that he wd see me “here” at 10o 30′.9 So I went to the Office, & an old clerk expressed unbounded astonishment, declaring why “he never comes here—he has nothing to do here”. So I must go tomorrow to Argyll House.10 He evidently takes home the Official Stationery & uses it as his own House.

I enclose Reginald Darwin’s cordial & nice letter, which may be burnt.—11

You will have heard of the triumph of the Ladies at Cambridge. The majority was so enormous that many men on both sides did not think it worth voting. The minority was received with jeers.12 Horace was sent to to the Lady’s College to communicate the success & was received with enthusiasm.13 Frank & F. Galton14 went up to vote. We had F. Galton to Down. (Mrs G. was unwell & could not come) on last Sunday.15 He was splendid fun & told us no end of odd things. He is certainly a most agreeable man, & we all liked him extremely, but he is becoming awfully deaf. Bill Marshall was there & did not seem very flourishing, poor fellow, & I fear is doing but little as an architect.16

Mamma orders me to order you to get an Alpen-stock to save you from tumbling on the slippery roads.—

We have just been calling on the Huxleys. & he looks awfully haggard.17 I told him about Sanderson’s Lecture, & he remarked that was nothing unusual: Sanderson told his wife18 that a lot of men were coming to supper at 9 oclock & that she must have a good supper ready & had better not appear. So at about 9 oclock the visitors appeared & talked very pleasantly till 11 oclock, when they went away & he accompanied the last man down to the door, & in passing the Dining Room he saw the untouched supper all laid out & cried out “Good God I have forgotten the supper”.—

Monday— I have just returned from a very long call on the Duke of A. He was very agreeable & we discussed many subjects, & he was not all cocky. He was awfully friendly & said he shd. come some day to Down & hoped I would come to Inverary! He said that he had heard that you had been in the ship with his son, from whom he had received a Telegram at the Cape, saying that he was much better.—19

Good Bye dear old George | Your affectionate Father | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the references to Erasmus Alvey Darwin’s ill health and George Howard Darwin’s visit to Madeira (see n. 5, below).
CD and Emma Darwin visited Henrietta Emma and Richard Buckley Litchfield in London from 24 February to 3 March 1881 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
Emma Darwin had told George that E. A. Darwin was very unwell in her letter to him of 16 February 1881 (DAR 210.3: 4).
George’s letter has not been found.
In her letter of 8 February 1881, Emma had reminded George to observe earthworms on Madeira, since CD was ‘puzzled how worms get to islands’ (DAR 210.3: 3). George was convalescing on Madeira (see letter to W. E. Darwin, 4 February [1881] and n. 5).
Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell had taken a geological tour to Madeira in 1854; for CD’s response to their descriptions of the island, see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to Charles Lyell, 18 February [1854].
On 25 February 1881, John Scott Burdon Sanderson gave a lecture titled ‘Excitability in plants and animals’ at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain 9 (1879–81): 519). The lecture was published in ibid. 10 (1882–4): 146–67.
Warren De la Rue was secretary of the Royal Institution, and Thomas Boycott, who chaired the lecture, was vice-president.
George Douglas Campbell, eighth duke of Argyll, had been in correspondence with CD regarding a civil list pension for Alfred Russel Wallace (see letter to G. D. Campbell, [7 January 1881]). Campbell’s notes inviting CD to visit him in London have not been found.
Argyll House is in Chelsea, London.
Reginald Darwin’s letter has not been found.
On 24 February 1881, there was a Senate vote at the University of Cambridge to determine whether female students should have the right to sit the final-year examinations, even though they could not be awarded degrees; there were 366 votes in favour and 32 against (McWilliams Tullberg 1998, pp. 63–5).
Horace Darwin probably reported the news either to Newnham Hall or Girton College; these residences for women attending Cambridge lectures were not granted full college status in the University of Cambridge until 1948. Horace’s wife, Ida Darwin, had been instrumental in encouraging the Cambridge graduates among her male relatives to vote: ‘If the women do not get the certificate granted to them this time, their position will be worse than it has been, as they will lose the privilege of being examined by the University examiners’, she explained in a letter to her sister-in-law Henrietta Emma Litchfield on 19 February 1881 (CUL Add.9368.1: 5977).
Galton visited Down on 19 and 20 February 1881; Louisa Jane Galton was bilious and unable to accompany him (letter to W. E. Darwin, 19 February [1881]; letter from Elizabeth Darwin to G. H. Darwin, 20 February [1881] (DAR 251: 1413)).
William Cecil Marshall had designed the extension to Down House in 1876 (see Correspondence vol. 24, letter to W. C. Marshall, 22 November [1876]).
Thomas Henry Huxley had recently been appointed inspector of fisheries (see letter to T. H. Huxley, 7 January 1881). Huxley’s wife was Henrietta Anne Huxley.
Inveraray Castle, on the west coast of Scotland, was the ancestral home of the dukes of Argyll. Campbell’s son Colin Campbell, who suffered from ill health (possibly syphilis), departed for South Africa in late January 1881 (Jordan 2010, pp. 27 and 29).


Jordan, Anne. 2010. Love well the hour: the life of Lady Colin Campbell 1857–1911. Leicester: Matador.

McWilliams Tullberg, Rita. 1998. Women at Cambridge. Revised edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Describes lecture at Royal Institution by J. S. Burdon Sanderson on movement of plants and animals; JSBS’s preliminary part was so long that he never got to the plants.

Comments on the triumph of the ladies in the voting at Cambridge.

Mentions F. Galton’s visit to Down, a call on the Huxleys, and a visit with the Duke of Argyll.

Tells a story about the absent-mindedness of Burdon Sanderson.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
London, Bryanston St, 4
Source of text
DAR 210.1: 103
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13068,” accessed on 26 March 2023,