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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   [25 April 1855]1



My dear Old Willy

I have been idle in not having written to you, but I am somehow busier than ever with all sorts of experiments. I send a P.O. order for 1£. you must sign William Erasmus Darwin.2 I am not surprised at your running short for all the payments you enumerate amount to a good deal. Your half-year is beginning to pass, I am glad to say, for when May once has begun it is not so dreadfully long to look forward. I remember when at school, I used to begin & count at 6 or 7 weeks from the holidays & used to keep a notched stick, & cut off a notch every week.—

The Pigeon House3 is nearly complete & really does not look very ugly; it is a hexagon & the wire net part an oblong 1610 ft, & 9 ft high.— I have to go to London next week for the whole week & shall bring home the pigeons with me; I hope Fan Tails & Pouters: they will cost 20s per pair.

I had to go to London last Saturday & Monday & very tired I was, but we have more hopes of a Railway to Farnborough than ever we had.—4

I am trying all sorts of experiments on salting seeds & have the chimney-piece in the study covered with glasses which serve as flower pots. I suppose Mamma told you about our going to the Crystal Palace to see the Emperor &c,5 but I did not much care for it: it was so hot that Aunt Elizabeth6 fainted dead away & it was very frightening & disagreeable; & we had to lay her flat on the ground.—

I am glad to hear you think of breeding Lepidoptera; I have always heard that it is much the best way; but it is troublesome as the caterpillars require constant cleaning out & feeding.— There is some other way by putting Treacle or sugar– & water out at night.—

Mr Stainton is a very distinguished Entomologist & most liberal, I have heard, in showing his collections.7

I do not know what the ladder gymnastic is to which you allude.—8

Goodbye my dear old fellow.— Your characters have been very good this half-year; & I keep all that ever have been sent, & shall always preserve them. with pleasure.—

Adios.— I hope the next seven weeks will fly quickly

Your affectionate Father | C. D.


Dated by the reference to a postal order for William Erasmus Darwin (see n. 2, below).
CD’s Account book (Down House MS) has an entry on 24 April 1855: ‘Present to Willy £1 . 0 . 0.’
See letters to W. D. Fox, 19 March [1855] and 27 March [1855], for CD’s intention to keep pigeons.
CD attended Royal Society council meetings on 21 and 23 April (Royal Society council minutes). In April 1855, a plan was drawn up for an extension to the South Eastern Railway to run from Lewisham to Beckenham. John William Lubbock was the chairman of the committee; a prospectus and call for shareholders was issued on 21 April 1855 (see the Railway Times, no. 16, 21 April 1855, p. 432).
Queen Victoria visited the Crystal Palace at Sydenham on 20 April 1855. She was accompanied by Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) and his wife Eugénie. A large number of savants also attended, as recorded by Richard Owen (R. S. Owen 1894, 2: 5–6): To London Bridge about eleven. Babbage in our carriage; crowd tremendous … We saw the Queen, Prince Albert, and the Emperor and Empress of the French file past as they walked along the gallery … Mr. and Mrs. Charles Darwin there; we walked about a bit with them.
Sarah Elizabeth (Elizabeth) Wedgwood, Emma’s sister.
Henry Tibbats Stainton was an authority on Lepidoptera and editor of the Entomologists’ Annual.
Rugby School, like other public schools in England, was beginning to establish gymnastic instruction along the lines put forward by Archibald Maclaren, proprietor of the Oxford gymnasium and advisor to the military schools of Aldershot and Woolwich. Maclaren was responsible for devising a new system of physical education loosely based on German schemes, in which ‘ladders’ were important items of equipment (Maclaren 1869). The first gymnasium building at Rugby School was begun in 1868, but calisthenics was taught some years before: in 1855 ‘Military drill and calisthenics’ were taught by Major Johnstone (Rugby School archives).


Maclaren, Archibald. 1869. A system of physical education: theoretical and practical. Oxford.

Owen, Richard Startin. 1894. The life of Richard Owen … With the scientific portions revised by C. Davies Sherborn; also an essay on Owen’s position in anatomical science by the Right Hon. T. H. Huxley, F.R.S. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


The new pigeon house is nearly complete.

CD is busy trying all sorts of experiments on salting seeds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 6
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1660,” accessed on 19 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5