skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Erasmus Darwin   14 February [1862]1


Feb. 14th

My dear William

Lubbock tells me that the new microscope by Smith & Beck is to be Stereoscopic, with 3 object-glasses turning round, fixed to a circular plate;2 so that it sound stunning & all for 10 Guineas (if I am not mistaken) so it is rather aggravating that you have got yours.— Nevertheless I am pleased to hear that you have got one;, for the new one may not be on sale for many months to come; & then you can exchange,, if you find that you want it, for something still better. I am delighted to hear that you are beginning to work a little at Botany.3 You seem to me to have a taste for original research, & I believe such work will make your life much happier. I can well believe it must be a great relief having the mathematicks off your mind, & you must be glad that you did not shirk your degree.4 No doubt the Banking business will get to feel much easier, & after a year or two you will relish some extra work. Lord how proud I shall be if ever you write a Botanical paper!5

By the way, here is a trifling subject I wish in the summer you would look to: I asked Prof. Oliver whether there were any rudiments of ovules in such male plants as in the male of Lychnis dioica, & he looked for me at, I suppose, dried specimens,; & could see no difference in ovules of male & female!!6 This seems to me very odd. Begonia & some others might be looked at.— You seem to be leading a jolly dissipated life, & that was a jolly letter, which George forwarded to us.7 You seem to be well established in the best Society of the Place.— To return for moment to microscope; I know nothing about the polarising instrument; perhaps it would tell something of difference in contents or structure of cells.— Remember to buy some Phlox seed, mentioned by Lindley, & look at spiral ejected threads.8 When you have looked at some British forms, I could, if you cared for subject, get seeds of out-of-the way forms from Hooker & lots of seeds of the order could be bought at London seeds-men. I dare say Carter & Co could sell you 50 kinds of Compositæ all named.—9

We have been very miserable, & I keep in a state of almost constant fear, about poor dear little Skimp, who has oddest attacks, many times a day, of shuddering & gasping & hysterical sobbing, semi-convulsive movements, with much distress of feeling.10. These semi-convulsive movements have been less during these few last days, & are never accompanied by any loss of consciousness. Do you remember his being pitched out of the Truck: Mr Headland thinks his Brain probably suffered a little concussion;11 but I cannot help thinking that it is all due to some extreme irritation of stomach.— Miss Ludwig is unspeakeably kind to him, & he will remain with her all day & night.12 We shall have no peace in life till the poor dear sweet little man gets better.—

Tomorrow we are going to lunch with the John Lubbocks & Hooker will be there which will be a real pleasure.13 On Wednesday I have another lark to London to a Dentist, & be hanged to it, though it is only for stopping. Elizabeth is here & Mary Parker, who though dull is a nice girl.14

I have sent my Orchid M.S. to the Printers, & shall soon be hard at work correcting:15 whether my little Book has been worth writing, I know no more than the man in the moon.— I am now working & shall continue all this summer, a little at Dimorphism.—

Good night, my dear old fellow: I often rejoice that you are, I hope, fairly well & comfortably settled; but it is a dreadful loss that we cannot see you oftener, & for longer times.—

Goodnight. Your affect. Father | C. Darwin


The year is established by CD’s reference to the publication of Orchids and by the relationship to the letter from John Lubbock, 13 February 1862 (see n. 13, below).
John Lubbock had apparently recommended a microscope for botanical research made by the London instrument makers, Smith, Beck & Beck, of Coleman Street and Holloway Road, London (Post Office London directory 1861).
In 1861, William left the University of Cambridge without a degree to take up the offer of a partnership with the Southampton and Hampshire Bank, Southampton. However, as he had kept the required number of terms, he was able to sit the mathematical tripos in January 1862 and receive his degree (Cambridge University Calendar 1861, p. xxx; F. Darwin 1914). See also Correspondence vol. 9.
Although William Darwin began extensive studies in botany and conducted observations for CD over a number of years (see his botanical notebooks (DAR 117 and 234), and his botanical sketchbook (DAR 186)), he never published independently.
There are observational notes on male Lychnis dioica, dated 11 May 1862, in William’s botanical sketchbook (DAR 186: 43). CD had, for a number of years, been interested in the sexual relations of Lychnis dioica, and believed that he had ‘observed female Lychnis dioica seeded without pollen’ (letter to John Scott, 19 November [1862]; see also Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Daniel Oliver, 7 December [1861] and n. 5). In November 1861 he sought information from Daniel Oliver and Joseph Dalton Hooker concerning the rudimentary sexual organs found in flowers of this plant (see ibid., letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 November [1861]). No letter from Oliver containing the information referred to has been found, but CD acknowledged Oliver’s reply in the letter to Daniel Oliver, 30 November [1861] (ibid.). Following his own investigation of the male plants of Lychnis, CD concluded that Oliver was mistaken (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 May [1862]). In Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 410–11, CD used the rudimentary stamens and pistils found, respectively, in the female and male plants of this species to argue that some diclinous plants evolved from hermaphroditic species.
George Howard Darwin, aged 16, attended Clapham Grammar School, near London (Darwin 1916). The letter has not been found.
Lindley 1853, p. 635. In an attempt to further his son’s interest in botany, CD had advised William to obtain a copy of John Lindley’s Vegetable kingdom (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 19 June [1861]).
The reference is to James Carter & Co. of 237 and 238 High Holborn, London (Post Office London directory 1861). For other letters concerning CD’s attempts to stimulate William’s interest in botany, see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to W. E. Darwin, [3 May 1858], and Correspondence vol. 9.
CD refers to 11-year-old Horace Darwin whose periods of illness during early 1862 are recorded in Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242).
CD had begun to consult the London physician, Edward Headland in 1860 (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter to J. D. Hooker, [22 January 1860]). Emma Darwin took Horace to Headland on 11 February 1862, and recorded in her diary the commencement of an acid treatment on 14 February (DAR 242).
Camilla Ludwig was governess to the Darwin children.
CD refers to the lunch party at John Lubbock’s on 15 February 1862 to which, in addition to Joseph Dalton Hooker, George and Ellen Busk had been invited (see letter from John Lubbock, 13 February 1862).
The references are to Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood, Emma Darwin’s eldest sister, and CD’s niece, Mary Susan Parker.
See letter to John Murray, 9 [February 1862]. Orchids was published on 15 May 1862 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).


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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Darwin, Francis. 1914. William Erasmus Darwin. Christ’s College Magazine 29: 16–23.

Darwin, Francis. 1916. Memoir of Sir George Darwin. In Scientific papers, by George Howard Darwin. Vol. 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lindley, John. 1853. The vegetable kingdom; or, the structure, classification, and uses of plants, illustrated upon the natural system. 3d edition with corrections and additional genera. London: Bradbury & Evans.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Discusses WED’s growing interest in botany; would be grateful for certain observations.

Is much concerned about Horace’s illness.

Has sent Orchids MS to printers

and will work a little at dimorphism.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 95
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3447,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10