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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. M. Herbert   15–17 April 1832

St: John’s College Cambridge

Sunday April 15th. 1832.

My dear old Fellow

I now sit down to fulfil an engagement which I entered into with you before you left England; a task which has something so awful in it that it required no common exertion to break thro‘ my ordinary indolence to effect it. Dr. Johnson says that writing a short letter to a distant friend is like making an old acquaintance a distant bow, (and this with respect to a letter for Milan): to what length then ought I to spin out this Trans-Atlantic, trans-equatoreal one of mine? Strange changes have already taken place in Cambridge; amongst others I am a Fellow of St. John’s, and you must therefore imagine me a strict disciplinarian, and a good judge in Port. Whitley is pressing all sail to get elected Mathematical Professor at Durham new College; common reports have given him to Johnny Cameron’s Widow: he himself professes to be looking forward to marriage and torpidity— Cameron is in his own native bogs, and the Gluttons are all dispersed save Watkins, Whitley & myself. By the way how do you like Patagonian feeding; Lowe thinks you may collect a bundle of curious facts with respect to Cookery. I am going to commence reading for the Law immediately, and have some idea of going to reside at Chester for the next two years, to read with a Law-Tutor there. I dined with our old friend Henslow yesterday, and met Capt. Ramsay there (a brother of Ramsay’s); he has just returned from cruising on the African Coast; he is a very agreable man, and extraordinarily like his brother— After dinner we all went to Professor Smythes’,1 who gave a lecture on “Ladies” for the edification of Mrs. Somerville,2 and the Dublin Hamilton,3 who have been lionizing here for the last week. It was very amusing; I had no idea the old fellow had so much in him; after his lecture we had some good music, which he of course accompanied with his obligato Foolery. Mrs. Frere4 sold him the other day beautifully. He was crying down poor Rossini in a merciless manner, saying that he had nothing but frippery & tinsel. She commenced playing what she pretended was a piece of Rossini’s; he kept calling out tame! wretched! trash! &c!! She was really playing a noble bit of Handel. Henslow is going to take out this summer a party of Pupils either to Weymouth or the Isle of Wight, who wish to go out in the Poll (οἱ πόλλοὶ) and are at the same time attached to the study of Natural History; Mrs. Henslow and family are going along, so they must spend a delightful summer; would you not jumped at such an opportunity some two or three years ago? I have heard nothing of Eyton since you left; plucking seems a family failing as C. Eyton has just been plucked for his Little-Go, and W. Eyton has left for the Army in despair.5 As you might not perhaps have heard lately from Shrewsbury I will just tell you that Miss Owen of Woodhouse is married to — — .. & Miss Parker to Sir B. Leighton; and it is reported that Biddulph of Chirk is going to run off with Miss Fanny Owen, but I cannot in the least vouch for the authenticity of this last report; there has been a desperate case of Crim: Con: there between Offley Crewe & Mrs. Broughton Streye; he has to pay £5000 damages.—6 You will of course be anxious to hear how the Reform Bill is going on; the second Reading passed the Lords on Friday after a debate of four days; majority nine; Lords Harrowby, Wharncliffe, Haddington &c &c have come round; it is quite glorious to find how fast men are ratting;7 you I think are amongst a Tory Crew; just put one of them in Pickle as by the time you return home, he will be more valuable as a specimen for the Cabinet of the Antiquarian, than your Fungi & Coleoptera for that of the Naturalist; if you can get hold of one with Monboddo’s Tail,8 or with ears prolongated, it will be a doubly-interesting specimen. I expect that you will in addition to your book on Natural History, prepare one illustrative of the manners & customs of the Fuegans & Patagonians; I quite envy you the opportunities you have of collecting materials for lying; I, having long found it difficult to tell lies with good grace on the Home department, have by learning Spanish turned my attention to the Foreign; I expect great amusement from the discovery of America; do you mind and take advantage of 60o. S.L. The Cholera has been doing its work pretty effectually, but not to the extent that was expected; there have been in the last week 105 cases at Ely, & 49 deaths— It has not yet reached Cambridge— Of all places where it has raged furiously Paris seems to have been the worst; one day last week there were 1020 cases & between 300 & 400 deaths; Casimir Perier has been attacked with it, but has now nearly recovered; Heaviside’s brother has had it there— Henslow wished me to tell you that he has got your 17 Vol: of “La Dictionnaire Classique &c” description of the Plates—9 You will think this a very rambling, unintelligible letter, as I have paid no regard to order or, I fear, to intelligibility—going on the principle that all news must be agreable to one at such a distance from home— Tuesday Morning I was last night at a Quarterly Meeting of the Choral, which you used to patronize to such an extent; and if your old friend Keats was right, you will, as you used to, feel a thrill thro’ your back-bone at the very mention of some of your old favourites; for “Heard melodies are sweet, But those unheard are sweeter—”10 The Choral is improved to a pitch that you would hardly credit; the different parts are so well sustained, and so exactly in tune, that you might fancy each of them huge individual voices; I doubt whether you can understand my meaning. We had first the Overture to Esther; then a very judicious selection from the Dettingen Te Deum—11 Then “O first created brow &c” out of Samson: Then “Let their celestial concerts all unite” which was sung so splendidly that you might as I said before believe it a Quartett by four tremendous voices— then that elegant chorus from Solomon “May no rash intruder disturb their soft hours” &c; lastly the “Great and Glorious” chorus of Haydn— The second part commenced with Handel’s Overture to Rodelinda—very beautiful, grand, and simple.— Then a splendid new Mass of Hummel’s. The whole concluded with the Saul Chorus “Gird on thy sword” &c— There was a concert at Huntingdon last November, at which the Choral sang; where the London Great Guns were highly delighted with the extreme precision with which they executed some very difficult pieces of Harmony. Cambridge has been Music Mad this spring, as we have had a succession of Concerts, tho’ none, with the exception of those given by young Aspull, have been particularly brilliant. The Septett thrives; and the Caucus is getting on very well— We have just had a severe contest for the Registraryship which has fallen vacant by the death of Hustler,12 between Romilly of Trinity, and Chevallier.13 It was made to a great extent a Party Question; at least, Romilly was chiefly supported by the Whigs, Chevallier by the Tories. I am happy to be able to tell you that the former succeeded, after a day’s hard Polling— Miller has been appointed Professor of Mineralogy in the room of Whewell resigned. His lectures are tremendously stiff; he had a room-ful at first, but his audience gradually diminished down to five. Do you recollect Sharpe?14 He is going to get the Travelling Bachelorship; he is at present busily engaged in illustrating an Archi⁠⟨⁠te⁠⟩⁠ctural work of Whewell’s—15 I have just been having my Prints valued; ⁠⟨⁠they are⁠⟩⁠ condemned to the Hammer, as I find nothing at pres⁠⟨⁠ent⁠⟩⁠ so ornamental as the Ready— I have succeeded in raising a considerable quantity of Wind,16 and I now can take the wall of my Tailor17 with the greatest satisfaction & nonchalance. Being out of debt, or even approaching to that blissful state, is truly an enviable feeling. I carried my principle, and almost every body’s principle, “In for a penny in for a pound” rather too far, during my residence in the University, but I ought not to regret, as I have spent many happy days there, and not a few of them in your company. It is, I fear, a purely selfish feeling, when I say I wish you back; as we all confess to feeling somewhat uncomfortable on passing Xts. Gate. Those who wish you well—and they are many, for you must not in your case believe the old Spanish proverb “Ahora que te veo me acuerdo”—18 aint I bumptious?—ought to console themselves for your absence, by the reflexion that you are now engaged in collecting materials for future fame; that you are about to couple your name, already intimately connected with Science, with those of a Cuvier and a Humboldt. Don’t think me guilty of Flattery—I know you will do great things, as it is impossible that your assiduity and talents should not succeed. When you do return, take compassion on the briefless barrister—

We are getting quite liberal at St: John’s; I’ve just been asked to subscribe for Portraits of our two great Luminaries in Science & Literature—Herschel & Wordsworth—both of this College— Science is at present certainly on the Advance: when was there woman before Mrs. Somerville capable of abridging La Place’s Mecanique Celeste. On being introduced to La Place, as having read his Book; he observed that there was only one woman before who had done so—a Mrs. Glegg—which was the name of her former husband.—19 I have now told you all that my rambling wool-gathering head can think of, and my paper reminds me that it is time to bid you farewell; and, tho’ it has not all the bitterness of a former one, this, believe me, is not without its sting. All friends here desire the kindest remembrance, among whom are Henslow, Whitley, & Watkins.— God be wi’ you, and prosper all your efforts. I will not urge you to reply, as your time is necessarily much occupied: but let not the fear of writing a long letter deter you from writing, as a few lines to tell me that you are well and thriving will be most thankfully received by,

My dearest Darwin, your ever sincere friend | J. M. Herbert.


Mary Somerville. Her adaptation, Mechanism of the heavens (1831), of Pierre-Simon, Marquis de Laplace’s Mécanique céleste made her famous.
William Rowan Hamilton, distinguished here from William Hamilton, the Scottish metaphysician and logician.
Mary Frere, wife of William Frere, Master of Downing College.
An action was brought by Thomas Broughton Strey against John Offley Crewe ‘for a criminal conversation with the plaintiff’s wife’ (The Times, 21 March 1832, p. 3).
‘Desertion of one’s party or principles’ (OED).
Lord Monboddo was the courtesy title of James Burnett, Scottish judge, who believed men originally had tails, which were gradually worn away by the habit of sitting.
Bory de Saint-Vincent 1822–31. CD’s set is preserved in Darwin Library–Down. Volume 17, Atlas. Illustrations des planches is without plates.
John Keats, ‘Ode on a Grecian urn’ (1819).
A setting of the ‘Te Deum’ written by Handel to celebrate the victory of Dettingen, 26 June 1743 (Grove 1980, 8: 121).
Edmund Sharpe. He studied architecture in France and Germany while on the Worts Travelling Fellowship (DNB).
‘Saving money’ (OED).
To keep to the clear side of the walk, nearest the wall. ‘I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s.’ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1. 1. 10–11 (Arden edition).
‘Now that I see you I remember you’.
Mary Somerville’s first husband, who died in 1807, was Captain Samuel Greig (Somerville 1873).


Bory de Saint-Vincent, Jean Baptiste Georges Marie, ed. 1822–31. Dictionnaire classique d’histoire naturelle. 17 vols. Paris.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Grove, George. 1980. The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie. 20 vols. London: Macmillan.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Somerville, Martha. 1873. Personal recollections from early life to old age, of Mary Somerville, with selections from her correspondence. By her daughter Martha Somerville. London.

Whewell, William. 1835. Architectural notes on German churches. A new edition. To which is now added, notes written during an architectural tour in Picardy and Normandy. Cambridge.


Writes news of Cambridge friends, professors, music, the Reform Bill, and cholera. Expresses belief that CD will take his place with Cuvier and Humboldt.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Maurice Herbert
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
St John’s College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 204: 113
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 165,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1