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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   [26 May 1858]1



My dear Willy

The funny flower (& funny it is) is the Menyanthes, or Buck-bean I think, is English name.— The yellow flower is a Potentilla or one of its allies, one of the Rosaceæ.—2

I have been having a bad cold & am not very bright today, so shall not write much.— I am very glad that you are contented about going back to Norfolk.—3

I have come to heavy grief about my Bees-cells & my only hope is that Huber has not correctly described their manner of building.4 Knight Bruce has lent me a grand observatory Hive;5 & I am going to watch; for I cannot bear throwing up all my work.

Mamma with the three little Boys are just starting for Bromley, all as jollyas little dogs.6 Farewell my dear old man.— Aunt Catherine comes here on Saturday.7 Please enquire & tell us in your next letter on what day you go to Cambridge & how many days you will have to be there, so that Catherine may arrange about starting; as she wants to start in beginning of a week.8 She thinks the tour will not last more than month.— She intends sleeping first night at Carlisle: I am glad tour will not be more than month, & I think you will find this enough. Do not forget to look again at Belgiman & make sketch of stripes.—9 I hear there are great sales of Belgian Cart-horses in London & I mean to send Parslow up to look at them.

Farewell | My dear Man | Your affect Father | C. Darwin


The Wednesday before Emily Catherine Darwin was due to arrive at Down House (see n. 7, below).
William had taken up the study of botany (see letter to W. E. Darwin, [3 May 1858]).
William’s tutor, William Greive Wilson, was vicar of Forncett St Peter’s, Norfolk.
CD’s ‘grief’ may relate to François Huber’s description of the initial stages in the constructionof a bee’s cell (F. Huber 1814, p. 143). In his copy of this work (Darwin Library–CUL), CD com-mented: ‘If the sides of separate cell one are angular before other cells formed fatal to my theory. Opposed by my facts.— Yet Icaria; but Icaria only becomes angular after some cells formed’. From his own observations made from May to September 1858 (DAR 48 (ser. 2): 22–41), CD eventually came to believe that Huber had erred in his descriptions (see Origin, p. 230). See also letters to W. B. Tegetmeier, 9 May [1858], and to W. D. Fox, 27 [June 1858].
Louis Knight Bruce lived in Heatfield, Keston, a few miles from Down.
CD refers to Francis (aged 9), Leonard (aged 8), and Horace Darwin (aged 7). Charles Waring Darwin, his youngest son, was 17 months old.
Emily Catherine Darwin, CD’s younger sister, arrived at Down House on 29 May 1858 (Emma Darwin’s diary). She left on 5 June.
The trip to Cambridge probably related to William’s scholarship examination for Christ’s College (see letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 [May 1858]). William was to accompany Catherine Darwin on a tour; expenses for the trip are recorded in CD’s Account book (Down House MS) on 14July 1858.
In Variation 1: 57, CD stated: ‘My son made a sketch for me of a large, heavy, Belgian cart-horse, of a fallow-dun, with a conspicuous spinal stripe, traces of leg-stripes, and with two parallel (three inches apart) stripes about seven or eight inches in length on both shoulders.’


Huber, François. 1814. Nouvelles observations sur les abeilles. 2d edition. 2 vols. Paris and Geneva: J. J. Paschoud.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Has come to heavy grief about bees’ cells, unless Huber is wrong [François Huber, New observations on the natural history of bees, new ed. (1841)].

Discusses cart-horses and stripes on a Belgiman [Belgian?].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 27
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2266,” accessed on 9 June 2023,

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