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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   [5 October 1862]1

1 Carlton T. | Southampton


My Dear Father,

I have got the Lythrum, and send it you in 3 different envelopes to prevent mistake. I was in a great fright that I should not be able to get any short P. as I went one day, and could not find any tho’ I hunted most carefully. I suppose it had all been gathered as I found plenty of broken stems, but I found 2 or 3 plants of both L.P. and MP. so I went next day, and had another hunt, and at last found a plant marked: it unluckily did not grow in a clump with the other sorts but by itself.2

I have got branches of all three sorts, if you want any thing done in the way of counting. The S.P. are not quite so ripe as the others, but I dare say they will do.3

What horrid bore your exzema has prevented your going to Cam.4 I want to know what you think about this frog discussion for Sanders, as he has been having a battle with Sir H. James about them.5

Sir H. says there is not the slightest doubt that frogs have been found in stones, or coal & he explains it by saying that the spawn has got in through a crevice, and that the frog has been bred there, and lived years perhaps; Sanders holds out that the whole thing is humbug.

I have got to shew the Burnaby’s6 my microscope, so I should most obliged if you would send me 6 or so of your best objects   I send a little case in which they will travel perfectly safe and please tell me anything you can think of I can catch or find to shew them.

You all seem very jolly and well which is a good job. I dont know whether I shall get to Down before Christmas but I shall see.

I see there are only 19 more days for the exhibition, so that I must look sharp if I mean to see it again, which I do.7

I have just finished Orley Farm, and send it back and am very sorry it is over, though it hardly could have gone on any longer. I think Felix far too lucky8

Your affect son | W E Darwin.

I have just made an object of a bit of Zostera pulled apart to shew the threads, and put under glass slip with Canada Balsam.9


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from W. E. Darwin, 9 October 1862 (this volume, Supplement), and by the reference to the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Cambridge from 1 to 8 October 1862. The Sunday in that week fell on 5 October.
William was collecting seed-pods of the long-pistilled (L.P.), middle-pistilled (M.P.), and short-pistilled (S.P.) forms of Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife) for CD (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from W. E. Darwin, 1 August 1862).
CD wanted to know the number of seeds in the pods of the different forms of Lythrum salicaria before carrying out his crossing experiments with this species; he published the results in ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria, pp. 172–4.
CD had hoped to attend the last few days of the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, held from 1 to 8 October 1862 in Cambridge (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 [September 1862]).
A toad, allegedly released from a lump of coal from a Welsh mine, was exhibited at the International Exhibition held in London in 1862, and attracted much attention (‘Frogs in coal’, The Times, 12 September 1862, p. 7). Some men of science had tried to debunk the story (‘The frog in the block of coal’, The Times, 16 September 1862, p. 7), but others maintained the veracity of the account (see, for example, ‘The battle of the frogs’, The Times, 24 September 1862, p. 7). No reports on the disagreement between William Sanders and Henry James have been found.
Probably Richard Beaumont Burnaby, his wife, Eliza, his daughter Eularia Elizabeth Burnaby, and his son Richard Briones Burnaby; they lived in Clarendon House, Carlton Crescent, Southampton (Census returns of England and Wales 1861 (The National Archives: Public Record Office RG9/677/11/15)).
The International Exhibition at South Kensington, London, closed on 1 November 1862; it was not open to the general public every day.
Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope appeared in twenty monthly numbers; the parts were also gathered together and published in two volumes (Trollope 1862). See Publishers’ Circular, 1 October 1862, p. 449. The Darwins were reading the separate monthly parts (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from W. E. Darwin, 5 August 1862). Trollope’s character Felix Graham epitomised notions of personal integrity and legal morality in the novel, but the decisions he made were morally ambiguous (Polhemus 1968, pp. 85–8). At the end of the novel, Graham broke his engagement to a girl of humble birth that he had trained up on rational principles to be an ideal wife, and instead married the daughter of a famous judge for love (Swingle 1990, pp. 22–3).
Zostera marina (eelgrass or sea wrack) is a sea grass (a marine angiosperm) that was used to produce fibres considered to be a possible substitute for cotton (see Dennett 1998, pp. 57–8). Specimens of the fibre were displayed at the International Exhibition (see n. 7, above), but were declared ‘almost worthless’ as a cotton substitute by the journalist reporting on the exhibition in The Times, 6 October 1862, p. 10. Canada balsam is a resin of the balsam fir tree (Abies balsamea) that was used to permanently fix and conserve objects on microscope slides.


Dennett, Laurie. 1998. A sense of security: 150 years of Prudential. Cambridge: Granta Editions.

Polhemus, Robert M. 1968. The changing world of Anthony Trollope. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Swingle, L. J. 1990. Romanticism and Anthony Trollope: a study in the continuities of nineteenth-century literary thought. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’: On the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria. By Charles Darwin. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. [Collected papers 2: 106–31.]

Trollope, Anthony. 1862. Orley Farm. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall.


Has found Lythrum, and sends some. Wants to know what CD thinks of frog discussion between Sandars and James. Asks CD to send objects for microscope demonstration. Means to go see the London Exhibition again. Has finished reading Orley Farm and returns it.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Cornford Family Papers (DAR 275: 6)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3789F,” accessed on 21 September 2023,

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