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Darwin Correspondence Project

To C. E. Norton   1 June 1881

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

June 1st 1881

My dear Mr Norton

I write a line to thank you much for your letter, & to say that none of Franklins letters to my grandfather have been preserved.—1 Every scrap of information, M.S. &c which are still extant were sent to me by the grandchildren by his second marriage; when I was preparing my little notice of him.—2 I was very inaccurate about Franklin’s nephews (as I imagined them to be) but I hope that I said that I felt quite doubtful whether there was one or two, but am positive about their (or his) rudeness & about Franklin’s manner of taking it.—3

I am ashamed to say that I never read Spark’s life of Franklin & knew nothing about the letter, of which you have so kindly sent me a copy.4 My Father used to repeat the anecdote, which I presume has been published, of the Queen of France having said to him, (when he came to Court in plain clothes) that “you not only teach the world wisdom, but you teach the Court of France etiquette.”—or something to like effect.—5

We start early tomorrow morning for the Lakes, where at Patterdale, we have taken a house for a month.— I heartily wish that we could see William & Sara there.6 I have much to do so farewell, with kind remembrances to all your party, | Yours very sincerely | Charles Darwin


See letter from C. E. Norton, 17 May 1881. Norton had asked whether CD had any letters from Benjamin Franklin to Erasmus Darwin.
Erasmus Darwin’s second wife was Elizabeth Darwin (1747–1832). Among the grandchildren who sent information to CD for his book (Erasmus Darwin) were Francis Galton, Elizabeth Anne Wheler, Violetta Harriot Darwin, and Reginald Darwin.
See letter to C. E. Norton, 30 April 1881 and n. 4, and letter from C. E. Norton, 17 May 1881. Norton identified the nephews as Franklin’s grandsons William Temple Franklin and Benjamin Franklin Bache.
Norton had sent CD a copy of a letter from Erasmus Darwin to Benjamin Franklin, printed in Jared Sparks’s Works of Benjamin Franklin (Sparks ed. 1836–40, 6: 410–11; see letter from C. E. Norton, 17 May 1881 and n. 4).
Sparks described Franklin’s appearance at the French court, but did not relate the anecdote about the queen, Marie-Antoinette, commenting on his plain dress (Sparks ed. 1836–40, 1: 435).
The Darwins visited Patterdale in the Lake District from 2 June to 5 July 1881 (Emma Darwin's diary (DAR 242)). William Erasmus Darwin arrived on 18 June 1881, but Sara Darwin did not come (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242); letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Litchfield, [19] June 1881 (DAR 219.9: 266)). Sara was Norton’s sister-in-law.


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

Sparks, Jared, ed. 1836–40. The works of Benjamin Franklin: containing several political and historical tracts not included in any former edition, and many letters official and private not hitherto published, with notes and a life of the author. 10 vols. Boston: Hillard Gray.


No Benjamin Franklin letters to Erasmus Darwin preserved.

Was inaccurate about Franklin’s nephews [in Erasmus Darwin].

Recounts story about Franklin at court of France.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Eliot Norton
Sent from
Source of text
Houghton Library, Harvard University (Charles Eliot Norton Papers, MS Am 1088.14: 1599)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13187,” accessed on 8 February 2023,