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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. H. Darwin   8 June [1881]1

Benrhydding H. | Patterdale Penrith

June 8th

My dear George

I am quite delighted at Ball’s letter & have read it ever so many times.2 I am like the Poet, of whom Ralston spoke, whose head was so much turned that it came right off.—3 It is really splendid, for the letter is obviously so spontaneous.—

This place is magnificently beautiful, but the weather is nothing less than damnably cold, & this precludes much enjoyment. There was snow on the mountains yesterday & this morning. Mother has got one of her usual headaches, but is improving & will be up, we hope by luncheon.— We rather expect Mr. Marshall to call today, & if he offers his Park-like grounds—for walking in, it will be a great advantage to me; for at present, I have only 2 walks.4 The Boys have taken no end of long walks, & so has Bessy, but poor Litchfield has sprained again the same ancle as before.—5 Leonard has gone to Pooley Bridge to arrange about his sappers.—6

There is no Boat at present at 5o 20′.— It is nominally 16 miles from Penrith here, & a very pretty drive.— It will be very nice having you here, & there is some hope of William coming.7 I hope poor dear Ida may be able to come. I think the visit here has done Horace good; he has been very jolly & pleasant, & has taken several gigantic walks.—8

Please look in list of Royal Soc. members for the initials of Mr. Lawes of Rothamsted(?) Christian name, & tell me.— I want to send him my worm-book, when published, as the only return which I can make for an astoundingly civil invitation to Rothamsted.—9

I think Ball one of the best men who ever lived: I wish he was going to be Astronomer R., but Leonard says Stone at the C. of G. Hope has been appointed.—10

Your affectionate Father | C. Darwin


The year is established by the address. In 1881, the Darwins visited Patterdale in the Lake District from 3 June to 4 July (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
The letter from Robert Stawell Ball to George has not been found. Ball was an admirer of George’s work and later referred to George as the ‘discoverer of tidal evolution’ (Ball 1881, p. 81). Ball praised George in a lecture printed in the Dublin Daily Express, a copy of which he sent to George (see letter from G. H. Darwin, [9 June 1881] and n. 6).
In 1879, the Darwins had stayed at the Waterhead Hotel, Coniston, on Victor Marshall’s estate (see Correspondence vol. 27, letter to Victor Marshall, 25 August 1879).
Several of CD’s children had joined the Darwins, including Leonard, Horace, and Elizabeth Darwin, and Henrietta Emma and Richard Buckley Litchfield (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Pooley Bridge is a village at the northern end of Ullswater; Leonard Darwin was an officer in the Royal Engineers. Sappers are ordinary soldiers in the Royal Engineers (OED).
George arrived on 15 June 1881 and William Erasmus Darwin came on 18 June (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
There is no record of a visit by Horace’s wife, Ida Darwin.
See letter from J. H. Gilbert, 5 June 1881 and n. 1. Gilbert and John Bennet Lawes had invited CD to see some of the grass experiments at the Rothamsted Experiment Station. Gilbert’s and Lawes’s names appear on CD’s presentation list for Earthworms.
George Biddell Airy was, in fact, succeeded by William Henry Mahoney Christie, who had been Airy’s assistant at the Royal Greenwich Observatory since 1870 (ODNB). Edward James Stone had been royal astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope before his appointment in 1879 as Radcliffe observer at Oxford (ODNB).


Ball, Robert Stawell. 1881. A glimpse through the corridors of time. Nature, 24 November 1881, pp. 79–84, 1 December 1881, pp. 103–7.

Earthworms: The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms: with observations on their habits. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1881.


Discusses a letter [not found] from R. S. Ball that has quite delighted him.

Describes events at Patterdale.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Howard Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.1: 104
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13197,” accessed on 9 February 2023,