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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   [5 May 1859]1



My dear William

Your clothes have been found & sent off.— We have received your nice Monday letter.— I am glad to hear about rifle-club: I think it very proper that every man shd. learn the use of arms to defend himself or country at a crisis.

You will have to reflect soon & seriously about your summer-plans.— I shd like you to have one pleasure excursion. Indeed we shd like you to have no end of pleasure; if that was not a bad beginning for one who must work, or be a poor man all his life.— In 1st. place there is Ilkley in July.2 Secondly Aunt Catherine has just written to ask whether you would like to go with her in middle of June to north of Scotland, for about 5 weeks.3 Mary Parker will probably be of party.4 They will stay chiefly at a few different places, & not travel very much. This tour wd. have advantage of not costing you hardly anything. It would not do to tell Aunt Catherine that you would go, & then change. Thirdly, there is your Swiss Tour: I presume that this would be practicable for two young men even in war-time.5 But it would cost money. It would never do to have both tours & Ilkley; for you would do nothing all summer.— But whether you could afford the Swiss Tour, I know not: if you worked pretty hard I would help you a little with cash.— Fourthly, there is the suggestion of your reading at the Lakes; the country is charming; & if you thought you really could work, I would gladly pay the tutor’s fee (What is it?) & you could come to us at Ilkley at close. No doubt that reading with Tutor in first vacation would get you splendidly on.6 Can you form any opinion whether your Tutor thinks you have a turn for mathematicks? Even if you were not able to take high degree, a course of mathematicks well followed up, must be an admirable training.—7 Consider well; & then come soon to some decision.— You are lad of gumption & will choose well & honestly.—

I have sent 6 first chapters to Printer, & hope to have finished early in July, if health permits.—

I have invented splendid game at Billiard; put 2 coloured balls on Table & play for canons8 only—misses to count 1—spot the coloured balls when accidentally pocketed—play next time with white balls when pocketed up or down, out of Balk semicircle.—9

Your affect.—Father | C. Darwin

Your shirt was at the wash & waistcoat on the pegs.10


Dated on the assumption that William had just returned to Cambridge for the new university term. Emma Darwin’s diary records that William left Down on 2 May 1859, a Monday. This was probably the same Monday as the ‘nice Monday letter’ referred to by CD. The following Thursday was 5 May.
CD planned to go with his family to a water-cure establishment at Ilkley, near Otley, Yorkshire, in July, but because he was so occupied with getting Origin ready for the press, he did not go there until October. In July he briefly visited Moor Park hydropathic establishment (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
Emily Catherine Darwin was CD’s younger sister. William had accompanied her on a former tour in the summer of 1858 (see letter to W. E. Darwin, [26 May 1858]).
Mary Susan Parker was William’s cousin, aged 23, and so about three years older than William. She was the daughter of Marianne and Henry Parker.
France and Sardinia were at war with Austria.
Joseph Wolstenholme, assistant tutor at Christ’s College and mathematician, ‘was very well read in the English poets: and he was an excellent reader. He was an exceedingly good walker, and he loved the English lake-country’ (Biographical register of Christ’s College, 1505–1905 2: 500–1). In a letter to William written late in May 1859, Emma Darwin stated: ‘Your father & I think it will not be worth while your joining Aunt Cath. for a fortnight & you will have a most pleasant time with the Tutor at the lakes. Your father will write to you soon. It is puzzling to know what to do about this jolly tutor who does not seem to be over studious. He must have taken a fancy to you I think.’ (DAR 210.6). William decided to read for his examinations in the Lake District: the fee for Wolstenholme’s tutorials was entered in CD’s Account book (Down House MS) on 15 September 1859.
William passed the Mathematical (Honours) Tripos in June 1861. A printed report of the results of the examination is in DAR 210.6.
Cannons, or caroms: ‘an abbreviation of Carambole, applied to the stroke so called in Billiards’ (OED).
CD had just bought some ‘Pool-balls’ from Hopkins and Stephens, the firm who supplied his billiard table. His Account book (Down House MS) records that he paid £1 16s. for them on 28 April 1859.
The postscript is in Emma Darwin’s hand.


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.

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.


Discusses WED’s plans for the summer.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 43
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2442,” accessed on 13 September 2023,

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