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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Erasmus Darwin   [26 February 1856]1


Tuesday Evening

My dear old Willy

I was very glad to get your letter this morning, but I wish I could hear that your leg was quite healed: be sure tell us particularly how it goes on.— I am glad to hear of your sixth-form power;2 it is good to get habit of command & discretion in commanding; & you unfortunate wretch, how you will enjoy reading the prayers, & keeping the accounts; as for carving you will cut a good figure.— You know Mamma is at Hartfield with the 3 little chaps;3 I enclose a note from Lenny. He sent such a funny one lately to Leith Hill: it began “Baby has a shag coat, but it is brown.— I have bought some sealing wax & I have bought some note paper: it is quite true.— Is not this a jolly letter?.” & so on for 4 pages.—4 Snow, the dog has come back, very fat & is just as much at home as before.—

We have today cut down & grubbed the big Beech tree by the roundabout: I find by the rings it is 77 years old:5 I am going to try whether there are any seeds in the earth from right under it, for they must have been buried for 77 years.—6 I am getting on splendidly with my pigeons; & the other day had a present of Trumpeters, Nuns & Turbits; & when last in London, I visited a jolly old Brewer, who keeps 300 or 400 most beautiful pigeons & he gave me a pair of pale brown, quite small German Pouters:7 I am building a new house for my tumblers, so as to fly them in summer.—8

I am sorry to say that I have had to strike out your name for Athenæum Club, as you cannot be entered till 18 years old.9 Several members mistook you for me & Lord Overstone10 called here to say that he should propose me to be elected by the Committee, who have power of electing 8 members every year, so that I have had a deal of bother on the subject.— I shd. like to hear what you do in Chemistry.— Good night, my dear old man,

Your affect. father | C. D.—

I will send on your letter to Hartfield. We are such a little party at home, as I never remember.—


An entry in CD’s Experimental book, p. 3 (DAR 157a) gives 26 February 1856 as the date on which the beech tree with seventy-seven rings referred to in the letter was cut down.
William was a pupil at Rugby School. He was evidently given senior ‘powers’ before he was actually in the sixth form, which he did not enter until February 1857 (see letter to Syms Covington, 22 February 1857).
Emma Darwin was in Hartfield, Sussex, where her sisters Sarah Elizabeth (Elizabeth) Wedgwood and Charlotte Langton lived at The Ridge and Hartfield Grove, respectively, from 21 February to 1 March 1856 (Emma Darwin’s diary). Since William and George were at school, only Francis, Leonard, and Horace, in addition to Henrietta and Elizabeth, accompanied her.
Leonard Darwin was 6 years old. His childhood sayings were a frequent source of amusement to the family (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix III). Leith Hill Place was the home of Caroline and Josiah Wedgwood III.
See n. 1, above. The results of CD’s experiment were recorded in his Experimental book, p. 3 v.
There are several entries for 1856 in CD’s Experimental book (DAR 157a) describing similar kinds of experiments. For CD’s earlier interest in the vitality of seeds long buried, see Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix VI, and Correspondence vol. 5, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 13 November [1855].
Matthew Wicking of the brewers Jenner, Wicking and Jenner, 153 Southwark Bridge Road (Post Office London directory 1856).
Throughout 1855 and 1856, CD paid John Lewis, the Down carpenter, each half-year for work on pigeon houses (CD’s Account book (Down House MS)).
See also letter to John Lubbock, [6 March 1857], in which the same rule is discussed in relation to Lubbock’s election.
Samuel Jones Loyd, Baron Overstone, was a member of the committee of the Athenæum Club; he was one of the trustees from 1857 to 1883 ([Cowell] 1975). William Darwin was not elected to the Athenæum Club until 1884 (Waugh [1888]).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

[Cowell, F. R.] 1975. The Athenaeum Club and social life in London, 1824–1974. London: Heinemann.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

Waugh, Francis Gledstanes. [1888.] Members of the Athenæum Club, 1824 to 1887. N.p.: privately printed.


Writes of WED’s progress at school and events at home.

Discusses pigeons, with which he is "getting on splendidly".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 8
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1804,” accessed on 22 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6