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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. M. Herbert   [28 March] 1834

Oxford & Camb: Univery. Club | St: James Square

Good Friday. 1834

My dear Darwin,

So long a time has elapsed since the receipt of your last kind letter, that I fear you will think I have forfeited by my silence all claim to another— It was I think in October that your letter arrivd; & now ’tis the very end of March. The delay is quite unpardonable, but I will not aggravate the fault by attempting a shuffling apology— Cambridge has been full of bustle during the last year. Henslow has of course told you all about the meeting of the British Association, how the Philosophers talked & ate & talked again; how many of them were to be found at Pot-Fair1 instead of the Evening Meeting at the Senate House, the disgusting conduct of the Provost of Kings in shutting the Gates of the College against an immense crowd, after having allowed the use of Kings Piece for the exhibition of Deck’s Fireworks; alleging as a cause of his so doing the mob outside, which consisted of Ld. Fitzwilliam & Party, Sir John Herschel & Party, Airy & Party &c & all the élites; how he himself (Henslow) was knocked down by the Porter, in attempting to get the Key, & afterwards put into durance vile.2 It wd. have done your heart good to have seen how Sedgwick expressed his disgust at the College & its miserable Provost. I was engaged nearly the whole of the meeting in the Commissariats Department so that I heard little of what was going on; in truth I cared little to hear it as having neglected all the little scientific knowledge which I once possessed (not mind from any disregard, but from mere idleness) I shd. hardly have understood two consecutive sentences that were uttered. I hear that some Geological Specimens that you sent over were considered extremely valuable as supplying some desiderated link in the chain, & that you came in for a due share of κυδος. What a nice fellow young Lowe is, I mean the Albino. he just failed in getting a double first at Oxford, getting only a second in Mathematics—3 We were together nearly the whole of the Meeting & took to each other amazingly. At the meeting of the B.A. the preceding year at Oxford, there was a discussion on the cause of the pinkness in the eyes of Albinos in his presence. After this philosophy came a series of excellent concerts, the diva Malibran & De Beriot4 being the chief attractions. To ensure the expenses of this they had a guarantee fund, consisting chiefly of Members of the University; unluckily most of the names were Whig: & consequently the Tory Families in the County declined supporting a Concert under their superintendence! The poor fund had to pay up £450 to cover the deficiencies— The University has since been kept alive by an attack upon them by the redoutable Beverley, who has in his turn been demolished by Sedgwick.5 Beverley’s charges of Gambling &c agst. the University led to some investigations into the “unhallowed nightly orgies” which terminated in the expulsion of Lord J. Murray & another who had played to the amount of £1200 in one night—6 Old Chafy7 the other day had an action brought agst him by a Fellow-Commoner of Jesus & an attorney for false imprisonment in confining them within the walls of Sidney, because they wd. not give their names— £25 damages— At the present moment everybody is talking about & the London Papers are full of, a petition from all the good men & true at Cambridge in favor of Dissenters being admitted to the University—8 Toryism is evidently on its last legs, it is amusing to look upon their labored tho’ abortive efforts; they are like swine—swimming upon the buoyant wave of sophistry they are cutting their own throats by their clumsy & ill-timed maneuvres— The University of Oxford have just elected the D. of Wellington (not one of their own body) their Chancellor in the room of the accomplished Ld Grenville—thus completing the Triad of Field-Marshals—Chancellors of the three Universities —Cumberland! Glouster!! Wellington!!!9 (Go to 1st page)10

Ld. Grey in presenting the Cambridge Petition made a most excellent appeal in behalf of the claims of the Dissenters; which Wellington attempted to answer— He spoke of the Dissenters as Atheists?? & designated our Articles the Articles of Christian Faith, thereby imputing Infidelity to any who declined to subscribe to them. Can you imagine any conduct more inane? They had already by their previous illiberality taught the Dissenters to look on them with suspicion, as members of a pseudo-tolerant church. Can insult or injury ever be forgiven?11 Cumberland made an insignificant attempt; & Gloucester our learned Chancellor was too unwell to be in his place; Higgins cd. not screw him up to concert pitch.

I stayed at Cambridge till the end of July, living almost entirely with that clever amusing silly fellow Cameron. I never knew a more pitiable case than his, save perhaps Matthew’s— There they live in worse than idleness; two men who with no great exertion might have cut no mean figure in the world. Cameron is a good deal sobered down, but Matthew is still I fear a most determined votary of Circe— He commenced a translation of Virgil for Poll-Men (by the way he is an excellent Poll-Tutor) & had proceeded to the end of the 2d line, when Heaviside unluckily threw the M.S.S. into the fire, & poor Matthew has never since been able to renew the attack— I saw Watkins about six weeks back in Chester where he had gone to be examined for orders, but I have since heard that his title12 was not good. Whitley is at Durham—a Reader in Natural Philosophy at the New College— He tried for the Matheml. Professorship, but was beaten by Carr,13 who is since dead; I hope Whitley is now almost certain of succeeding. The Election comes on in July— He is very wroth with you for never having written to him— He talks very furiously of Matrimony— I have no notion who the lady is— Your friend Marindin14 has just married Colville’s sister— He is going into the Church— Last summer I was staying three Weeks at Dolgellau, which is I think a much nicer place than Barmouth—except that there are no delightful associations about the former like those of the latter; one day I started in the Pen-Maen boat to visit old Barmouth, absolutely feasting on anticipation of the joyous welcome I shd. meet with from Squinney & my other old cronies— She however looked cold on me; asked me to take her lodgings. John Robert had forgotten me; the day set in to furious rain, Barnett gave me a bad dinner, the boat did not return that night to Pen-Maen so in a fit of bitter mortification I set out in the midst of the rain to walk to Dolgellau— On going down the hill from Llan— (I forget the name about two miles from Dolgellau)15 I trod on a rolling stone with my sound foot, & so grievously sprained my ancle that I was confined to my sofa for a fortnight— There is surely some fatality about my connexion with Merionethshire— Just as I was thinking of the limping way in which I walked down the hill some 5 yrs before with you & Butler, & congratulating myself on my altered condition, this unlucky accident happened, & I had again once more to crawl from thence to Dolgellau, tho’ now alone & unfriended— I am going to ffestiniog this next summer.

I have now left Chester & am settled in London— The change is a miserable one— I had formed such agreeable acquaintances in Chester— Here one is alone amidst a countless multitude. I ought to have been an Entomologist if the law of mutual Attraction hold good in all cases; for a certain species of the Cimex Genus has taken such an extreme fancy to me, that it does not leave through the whole night long— I fear the consciousness of having ill treated you has made me more than ordinarily stupid. When you get this letter over half of your pilgrimage will be completed. Go on & prosper. I look forward with pleasurable expectation to the uncut 4to. How I shall enjoy yr bursts of honest enthusiasm— God bless you— Every body here who knows you sufficiently to appreciate your worth wishes you the happiest success but none more than your affecate friend | J M Herbert.

Write when you have leisure—


The Pot Fair or Midsummer Fair were popular names for the fair held at Barnwell, 3 miles north-east of Cambridge, on 23 June (Winstanley 1940, p. 129).
‘That beast of a Provost [Rev. George Thackeray] shut the great gates—his Porter shut up Henslow for an hour in the Lodge for trying to keep the gates open: we had (after waiting an hour) to go down the Lane:—the fireworks good’ (Romilly 1967, p. 36).
Robert Lowe took a 1st class in classics, 2d in mathematics, at University College, Oxford, 1833 (Alum. Oxon.).
Robert Mackenzie Beverley, a graduate of Trinity, wrote a pamphlet in November 1833 on the corrupt state of the University. Adam Sedgwick wrote four letters in reply during the next two years. Beverley responded to the first, comparing Sedgwick to a bear dancing on hot iron. (Romilly 1967, p. 46; Winstanley 1940, pp. 86–7.)
The Hon. George Augustus Frederick John Murray. On 11 February 1834, Joseph Romilly noted in his diary, ‘we expelled Hon. G. A. Murray & Hunter for gambling (Murray won near £800 of Hunter, who confessed to Whewell)’ (Romilly 1967, p. 48).
William Chafy, Master of Sidney Sussex College (ibid., pp. 49 n., 51).
The petition to abolish religious tests for the degree was signed by sixty-three members of the University Senate, among them John Stevens Henslow, Adam Sedgwick, Charles Babbage, and George Peacock. A copy, made by Joseph Romilly, University Registrary, is in the Cambridge University Archives (CUR 118). See also Winstanley 1940, pp. 83–96.
The third university was Trinity College, Dublin (Cumberland).
Herbert continued the letter by writing vertically across the first page.
The appeal to abolish religious tests in the universities failed. They were not repealed until 1871.
‘A certificate of presentment to a benefice, or a guarantee of support, required (in ordinary cases) by the bishop from a candidate for ordination’ (OED).
Samuel Marindin married Isabella Colville on 13 March 1834.


Alum. Oxon.: Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1500–1886: … with a record of their degrees. Being the matriculation register of the university. Alphabetically arranged, revised, and annotated by Joseph Foster. 8 vols. London and Oxford: Parker & Co. 1887–91.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Romilly, Joseph. 1967. Romilly’s Cambridge diary 1832–42. Selected passages from the diary of the Reverend Joseph Romilly, fellow of Trinity College and registrary of the University of Cambridge. Chosen, introduced and annotated by J. P. T. Bury. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Winstanley, Denys Arthur. 1940. Early Victorian Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


A letter full of news of Cambridge and friends: the BAAS meeting at Cambridge; charges of corruption in the University; the Cambridge petition on behalf of Dissenters.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Maurice Herbert
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Oxford and Cambridge University Club
Source of text
DAR 204: 126
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 240,” accessed on 21 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 1