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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   14 [May 1858]1


Saturday | 14th

My dear Gulielmus

I am sorry that you cannot get a tin-box.2 I am dreadfully weak on Botany; but I can positively say that your plant is not Lady’s fingers.— I think it is a Lotus: but the specimen was so crumpled.—

Etty has begun Botany by natural system in earnest & made out that a Primrose had a central placenta & was one of the Primulaceæ!— She & Mamma have gone to London today about Etty’s teeth, & I expect them back every minute.—3 On Saturday Georgy comes, on Monday Aunt Susan,4 & on Wednesday I go to London; so we are all on the move.

I have this minute returned from a Vestry to compel that beast, Mr Ainslie,5 to pay a Church-rate;6 but he has floored us.— I have great hopes that the beast is ruined & will soon be clear of the village.— I have been working as usual too hard, & have almost quite lost the good which Moor Park did me; but I think I have settled the theory of Bees-cells.—7

I have had no answer to my letter to Mr. Wilson, in which I asked what his terms for you were from Sept. 1st to Oct. 16th; or as I put it delicately, whether it was a full quarter (by the way do not leave this note about) & then I must settle at once, when I hear, what must be done.—8 I sometimes doubt; but it wd. be so horridly vexatious if you were nearly & yet not quite get the Scholarship.—9 I shall be very glad to hear anything more about the “Belgiman”; it is by far the best case which I have got, & you have described the case, better than anyone.10


The date is given by the reference to Emma and Henrietta Emma Darwin having gone to London (see n. 3, below). However, 14 May 1858 was a Friday, not a Saturday. Since the letter is incomplete, it is possible that the missing portion was written on 15 May and that CD subsequently added the word ‘Saturday’ when the letter was sent.
CD refers to a collecting case for botanists known as a vasculum, usually made out of tin.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary, ‘Etty went to Mr Bell’ on 14 May 1858.
Susan Elizabeth Darwin, CD’s sister, arrived at Down House on 17 May 1858 (Emma Darwin’s diary).
Robert Ainslie, of Tromer Lodge, was a Methodist minister (Correspondence vol. 3, letter to Susan Darwin, 3[–4] September 1845; Post Office directory of the six home counties 1855). Emma Darwin, in a letter to William written early in October 1858 (DAR 210.6), mentioned Ainslie’s departure from Down: ‘I am going to look over Mr Ainslie’s furniture when I can be quite sure he is going awayit will save us much trouble if we can find some of it to suit. His sale is on the 15th.’. Ainslie’s name is not listed in the 1859 Post Office directory.
The church rate was a tax levied on landowners in each parish for the benefit of the parish church. The church rates were set by the churchwardens, together with parishioners in the vestry. Although it was a compulsory personal charge, collecting the tax often proved problematic, particularly from nonconformists who objected to supporting the established church (EB).
CD may have recently drafted a rough account of his theory of the formation of bees’ cells. In DAR 48 (ser. 2): 75–7, there are three manuscript pages that CD has labelled ‘a’, ‘b’, and ‘c’ headed, respectively, ‘If my theory is right.’, ‘My theory’, and ‘If my theory fails’. From the contents, they appear to be an early outline of his views on the formation of bees’ cells. However, in his next letter to William, CD says that he has ‘come to heavy grief’ over his theory (letter to W. E. Darwin, [26 May 1858]).
William’s tutor, William Greive Wilson, was paid £50 on 13 September 1858; the full quarter rate had been £52 10s. (CD’s Account book (Down House MS)).
According to the Cambridge University calendar for 1858, William won a scholarship to Christ’s College.


Cambridge University calendar: The Cambridge University calendar. Cambridge: W. Page [and others]. 1796–1950.

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

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.


Relates events at home;

hopes WED gets the scholarship.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 26
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2273,” accessed on 1 June 2023,

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