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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   29 [November 1855]1



My dear old Gulielmus

I have been so very sorry for your having been ill this half-year—again with the Measles: you have been most unlucky. Besides all the discomfort, all the loss of time must tell on your examination. Do not work to tire yourself; you are one of the very few Boys to whom I should dare to tell them not to overexert themselves, for most youngsters are inclined enough to spare themselves, but this has never been your case. I hope now that you will soon be quite comfortable. Thank goodness it is not now very long to the Holidays.—2

I am going up to London this evening & I shall start quite late, for I want to attend a meeting of the Columbarian Society,3 which meets at 7 oclock near London Bridge. I think I shall belong to this Soc.y. where, I fancy, I shall meet a strange set of odd men.— Mr. Brent was a very queer little fish;4 but I suppose Mamma told you about him; after dinner he handed me a clay pipe, saying “here is your pipe” as if it was a matter of course that I shd. smoke.— Another odd little man (N.B all Pigeons Fanciers are little men, I begin to think) & he showed me a wretched little Polish Hen, which he said he would not sell for £50 & hoped to make £200 by her, as she had a black top-knot.— I am going to bring a lot more pigeons back with me on Saturday, for it is a noble & majestic pursuit, & beats moths butterflies, whatever you may say to the contrary.—

Mrs. Mackintosh comes this evening & Mr. M.5 on Saturday. Poor Mamma is in bed with a bad cold this morning. Be sure do you be careful of yourself, when you first get out, for a cold after Measles is a serious affair.

Georgy likes his journeys to Hayes & has just started as independently as possible.6 I have been doing before the visitors came some optics with him, & I have got some optical toys, but they were a bad bargain: write twice a week, till you are perfectly well.

My dearest old fellow | C. Darwin


Dated by the reference to William’s measles, recorded in the family Bible at Down in November 1855, and by the visit of Robert and Mary Mackintosh to Down (see n. 5, below).
Emma Darwin recorded that William came home from school on 21 December 1855 (Emma Darwin’s diary).
There were three pigeon-fanciers’ clubs of that name: the National Columbarian, the City Columbarian, and the Southwark Columbarian Society (Secord 1981, p. 177). Given CD’s reference to the meeting being held near London Bridge, it is probable that he refers to the last named. CD also joined another fanciers’ society, the Philoperisteron.
Bernard P. Brent, a leading pigeon fancier and contributor to the Cottage Gardener. In 1856 he published a short article on the classification of pigeons (Brent 1856).
Robert Mackintosh, Fanny Mackintosh Wedgwood’s brother. His wife was the former Mary Appleton, daughter of Nathan Appleton of Boston. Emma Darwin’s diary records that “Robert M. & Mary came” on 29 November 1855 and left on 8 December.
George Howard Darwin was being tutored by George Varenne Reed, vicar of Hayes, near Down. See Moore 1977, p. 52.


Brent, Bernard Peirce. 1856. Classification of pigeons. Cottage Gardener and Country Gentleman’s Companion 15: 417–18.

Moore, James Richard. 1977. On the education of Darwin’s sons: the correspondence between Charles Darwin and the Reverend G. V. Reed, 1857–1864. Notes and Records of the Royal Society 32 (1977–8): 51–70.

Secord, James Andrew. 1981. Nature’s fancy: Charles Darwin and the breeding of pigeons. Isis 72: 162–86.


Is sorry to hear that WED has been ill.

Discusses pigeons and his pigeon work.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 7
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1689,” accessed on 23 May 2022,

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