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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   [17 February 1857]1


Tuesday Night.

My dear Willy

I am very glad indeed to hear that you are in the sixth;2 & I do not care how difficult you find the work: am I not a kind Father? I am even almost as glad to hear of the Debating Society, for it will stir you up to read.— Do send me as soon as you can the subjects; & I will do my very best to give you hints; & mamma will try also.— But I fear, as the subjects will generally be historical or political, that I shall not be of much use.— By thinking at odds & ends of times on any subject, especially if you read a little about it, you will form some opinion & find something to say; & in truth the habit of speaking will be of greatest importance to you. Uncle Harry was here this morning,3 & we were telling him that we had settled for you to be a Barrister (he was one) & his first question was, “has he the gift of the gab”? But then he added, he has got industry, & that is by far the most important of all.— Mamma desires that you will read the Chapters very well ;4 & the dear old Mammy must be obeyed. Her lip is plaistered up, so we cannot tell yet how she will look.—5

Parslow6 has looked for the guard of the Razor, & it is not in your room; & he remembers putting it in paper, & he thinks it was probably thrown on one side with the paper, so you had better enquire.—

Lenny, Franky & Coy. were rather awe-struck to hear that you had bought a cane to whip the Boys.—7

Be sure tell me about the Optics—& how you get on with the Reading in Chapel. Read slow & read the chapter two or three times over to yourself first; that will make a great difference. When I was Secretary to the Geolog. Soc, I had to read aloud to Meeting M.S. papers; but I always read them over carefully first; yet I was so nervous at first, I somehow could see nothing all around me, but the paper, & I felt as if my body was gone, & only my head left.—8

Snow came here today, in the carriage which took Harry back, & this, between ourselves, is rather a bore.9 On Saturday all the Josselinas come.—10

When you write tell me how long the Boys make their speeches, & whether many get up & answer.—

Good night, my dear old fellow & future Lord Chancellor of all England.—

Your’s’ most affectionately | Ch. Darwin


Dated by the reference to the guests in the house (see n. 9, below) and to Emma Darwin’s surgery (see n. 5, below).
CD is referring to the sixth form at Rugby School.
Henry Allen (Harry) Wedgwood was Emma Darwin’s brother.
The daily reading in the school chapel of a short lesson or passage from the Bible was assigned to the sixth form pupils.
Emma Darwin, who had been in London from 11 to 16 February, recorded in her diary on 13 February 1857: ‘Mr. Paget. lip done’. James Paget was assistant surgeon at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London.
Joseph Parslow was the Darwin family butler.
Leonard Darwin (aged 7) and Francis Darwin (aged 9).
CD had been secretary of the Geological Society of London from 1838 until 1841. See Correspondence vol. 2.
Frances Julia Wedgwood, or ‘Snow’, aged 24, the daughter of Hensleigh and Frances Mackintosh Wedgwood, was ‘a young woman of extreme passions and fastidious principles’ (B. Wedgwood and H. Wedgwood 1980, p. 259). Emma Darwin recorded that ‘Snow came’ on 17 February 1857 (Emma Darwin’s diary).
‘Josselinas’ was evidently a family nickname for the daughters of Caroline and Josiah Wedgwood III. Sophy Wedgwood was 15 years old; Margaret, 14; and Lucy, 11. According to Emma Darwin’s diary, the relatives from Leith Hill Place, the home of Caroline and Josiah Wedgwood III, did not arrive until 27 February and stayed until 5 March.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Wedgwood, Barbara and Wedgwood, Hensleigh. 1980. The Wedgwood circle, 1730–1897: four generations of a family and their friends. London: Studio Vista.


Is glad WED is in the sixth [form]. Discusses WED’s intention to become a barrister.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 14
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1805,” accessed on 29 January 2023,

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