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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Erasmus Darwin   11 [February 1858]1



My dear William

You have been very good about writing, for we like so much to hear all about the place & your companions &c.—2 I suppose the country is flat & ugly; so I fancy all Norfolk is, but I never entered the county.— It looks here, as if you would have skating, which would be a good job.—

You must know that I have determined to sell the grey mare;3 for the other day she started so violently in the tax-cart & ran up a bank that she very nearly upset the cart.— I shall try Mr Edwards & offer her for 25£.—4 Perhaps you will say, as Lenny did yesterday to Mamma, “Well that is cool to bag my chair”.—5 It will not be worth while to buy for Easter, without something very good turned up, but we must look out before the summer holidays; indeed it is very inconvenient for us being with only one horse.—

As Norfolk is near Suffolk, look out for me, whether there are near you any Suffolk Punches or large Cart-Horses of a Chesnut colour; if so please observe whether they have a dark stripe or band down the spine to root of tail; also for mere chance, whether any trace of a cross stripe on the shoulder, where the Donkey has, & any cross-stripes on the legs.6

Next Tuesday we all go up to London for a few days; the little Boys, however, not coming up till Wednesday & we all stay till Saturday; Mamma & Etty, however, a few days longer.—7 The little chaps are very full of the Conjurer, Astley & all.8 Thank goodness Lenny has been quite hearty of late.

Lewis has very nearly finished everything in the new rooms, & I must have the Surveyor down & pay for all.—9 We have sent the Barberini vase10 up to London by Uncle Harry, who was here on Saturday & Sunday,11 to see whether we can sell it for a good price; & if we can, will it not be good for buying some nice Water-Colour drawings & framed with a good margin, & some of the best in the old drawing-room likewise new framed, will make the new Drawing Room look stunning.— After you have been some little time at Mr Wilson’s, I shall like to hear how you get on with Mathematicks & Classics.

My dear old fellow | Yours affect | C. Darwin


Dated by the reference to William’s having arrived at his tutor’s residence in Norfolk (see n. 2, below). On 2 February 1857, Emma Darwin noted in her diary that ‘Wm went to tutors’.
CD had engaged William Greive Wilson, rector of Forncett St Peter’s, near Long Stratton, Norfolk, to tutor William in preparation for his going up to Cambridge in October 1858.
The grey mare had been purchased in October 1856, primarily for William to ride (Correspondence vol. 6, letter to W. E. Darwin, 25 [November 1856]). CD had previously told William of his plans to sell the horse (ibid., letter to W. E. Darwin, [November 1857]).
George Edwards, from whom the grey mare had been purchased, was a horse breeder who lived in Bromley Common, close to Down. He is listed in CD’s Address book (Down House MS).
Leonard Darwin was known among the family for his amusing sayings (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix III).
CD had long collected data on the colouring of horses and had discussed the topic in the chapter of his species book on ‘Laws of variation’, completed in September 1857 (Natural selection, pp. 328–32). See also Correspondence vol. 6, especially letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 13 June 1857].
Emma Darwin’s diary records that she ‘came to London’ on 16 February 1857. Henrietta Emma Darwin accompanied her, and the younger children came the following day. Emma returned to Down on 25 February.
Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre was an equestrian theatre in London founded by Philip Astley. CD had once taken his young cousins to see the performance (Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Susan Darwin, [26 April 1838]).
John Lewis was the carpenter in Down village. CD was having two new rooms added to Down House (see Correspondence vol. 6, letters to W. E. Darwin, [before 11 September 1857] and 29 [October 1857], and letter to W. D. Fox, 30 October [1857]). Although the Darwins initially intended the new downstairs room to be a dining-room, they finally used it as the drawing-room.
Also known as the Portland vase, the Barberini vase was a Wedgwood copy of the famous antique Roman vase purchased by the Duchess of Portland in 1784. The particular vase mentioned by CD was probably one of two owned by the family and may have been the one he acquired in 1844 following the death of Emma Darwin’s father Josiah Wedgwood II (see Correspondence vol. 3, letter to Susan Darwin, [27 November 1844?]). The vase was sold for £75 on 3 April 1858 (CD’s Account book (Down House MS)). Another Barberini vase, which had come to CD through his father Robert Waring Darwin, was given by CD to the Museum of Practical Geology later in his life (Meteyard 1875, pp. 302–5).
Henry Allen (Harry) Wedgwood was Emma Darwin’s brother.


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

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.


Writes of domestic matters

and asks WED to observe cart-horses for traces of dark stripes on spine and cross-stripes on shoulder.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 22
Physical description
ALS 6pp inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2215,” accessed on 28 May 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7