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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   12 February [1862]1


Feb 12th.

My Dear Father,

I have not only ordered the microscope, but I now have it down here, so that it is rather aggravating to hear that something new & improved is coming out. I asked about changing, & Smith & Beck said that they would take it back any time allowing the full value all but a pound or so, they said they often exchanged them in that way for the large microscope, and then they polished up the small ones and sold them again as new.2

And such being the case as there was a probability of my getting a large one sometime, I went in the whole hog, for the 15£ getting the extra draw with the Camera L.3 in it and the opaque lighting fixings, and the polarizing apparatus,which would be no use to me whatever, but as it was not much more, I did not think it worth while turning out; but if you think it not worth keeping even for prettiness, I could send it back now— I have tried the microscope twice; and find the want of rack work etc very little inconvenience, the barrel slides in cloth for coarse focusing, and [illeg] there is rack work for the fine;—4 I find it easy enough to manage the object with my fingers,— I mean to get out my Composites,5 as soon as I get a gap in my outings. I have only got the eye pieces and object glasses you mentioned S & B. seemed to think them enough

I have been growing seeds on sand and sketching the plumules and cotyledons for some little time, it is good practice, and they are very odd, particularly the plumules which are wonderfully different, it is a great blessing the days are getting longer, I get my walk 34 light now; and get called earlier, I have more outings on hand   On Friday I am going to a grand fairwell private ball given by a master of hounds near Winchester leaving the Country; but you shall hear more of these frivolities when the time comes; I am afraid Horace is worse, or you would not take him up to London.6

My love to Etty & thanks for her letter, I have sent on Mama’s letter,7 and written through the boys

I find this a very different life now those d—d mathematics are off my mind, I think Mr & Mrs. A.— think a taste stronger beer of me for not being plucked.8

I am your affect son | W E Darwin

I find the difficulty of addition getting beautifully less, I find the numbers adding themselves together, without holding ones breath and feeling a strain across the stomack.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 February [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10).
The London instrument makers Smith, Beck & Beck brought out a stereoscopic microscope later in the year (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 February [1862]). For more on the stereoscopic microscope, which involved the use of both eyes, see Carpenter 1875, pp. 57–73.
Camera L.: camera lucida. The camera lucida attachment on a microscope is an optical device that reflects the microscopic image on to a sheet of paper so that a drawing can be made. The apparatus was evidently stored in an extra drawer in the microscope box.
The rack is a track with teeth along which a pinion or gear moves when the knob used for focusing is turned. In some microscopes with fine adjustment features this was dispensed with for the coarse focusing (Carpenter 1875, p. 75).
Plants belonging to the family Compositae (asters, daisies, sunflowers); in his letter to William of 14 February [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), CD suggested where William might purchase different kinds of Compositae.
Horace Darwin was experiencing fits (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 February [1862] and n. 10). On 11 February 1876, he was taken to see the London physician Edward Headland (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Possibly the letter from Emma Darwin to W. E. Darwin, [3 February 1862] (DAR 219.1: 48). The boys were probably Leonard and Francis Darwin (ibid.). The letter from Henrietta Emma Darwin has not been found.
In January 1862, William had returned to Cambridge to sit the mathematical tripos (Cambridge University calendar 1861, p. xxx; F. Darwin 1914). Students who failed the examination were referred to as having been plucked (OED). William had left Christ’s College, Cambridge, without a degree in 1861 to take up the offer of a partnership with the Southampton and Hampshire Bank, Southampton (see Correspondence vol. 9). George Atherley was William’s banking partner; his wife was Ellen Atherley.


Discusses his new microscope.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Bank, Southampton
Source of text
Cornford Family Papers (DAR 275: 1)
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3443F,” accessed on 19 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24 (Supplement)