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Darwin Correspondence Project

To C. T. Whitley    [8 May 1838]

36 Great Marlborough St | London

Tuesday night

My dear Whitley

I was very glad the other day to receive your letter. Whoever told you I was wrath at you—a married man—not having written before was the grandfather of all liars.1 I much suspect it must have been that arch sinner old Herbert, whose imagination, as well know, was ever powerful at invention.2

You could not have written to a worse man than myself for news; for I live out of nearly all society & see none of our old friends, although I shall ever treasure up recollections of them.— I scarcely ever see even the best of good fellows, old Herbert, as I have my hands so full of work, that I am obliged to economise even minutes. Of course you have heard of J. Cameron marriage, & at his conversion into the best of country parsons!3 I should much like to hear some tidings of Frederic Watkins;4 there never was a man, who made his conceit so loveable. In the midst of this great smoky city I very often catch myself thinking of my country walks at Cambridge with you, and with Watkins and Venables by moonlight.—5

I am the more full of Cambridge ideas, just at this present day, as on Thursday I am going to pay Henslow a visit for a short time.6 I have been plagued with headachs of late & am going to give myself a holiday.—

You ask me about my doings and my plans, which, by the way, you did not set me a very good example in performing by not telling me more what you yourself are about.— I should have liked to have known what branch of the fine arts or of literature is the hobby horse.— I know your feelings about science; they are something like those of my brothers, who, when I was telling him some wonderful facts (as poor Lowe7 would have said) in geology, exclaimed, “Oh be quiet, I don’t care a damn for the whole Kingdom of Nature”.—8

Now for myself,—I am turned a complete scribbler,—I have written a volume of travels, which has been printed some months since but its publication is delayed owing to Capt. FitzRoy not being ready.—9 I am editor to a government work of the Zoology of the voyage, which will run on for about three years.—10 I have got half through a book on geology which will be followed by another, & perhaps by a third!.11

So you will say God help the Public, and in truth in these writing days they need the prayers of all good men.— I often laugh to think that I of all men, should turn a writer of books.— Lastly I am Secretary to the Geologi⁠⟨⁠cal⁠⟩⁠ Society, which however is not much more ⁠⟨⁠than⁠⟩⁠ a sinecure.—12 Of the future I know nothing I never look further ahead than two or three Chapters—for my life is now measured by volume, chapters & sheets & has little to do with the sun— As for a wife, that most interesting specimen in the whole series of vertebrate animals, Providence only know whether I shall ever capture one or be able to feed her if caught. All such considerations are hidden far in futurity, but at the end of a distant view, I sometimes see a cottage & some white object like a petticoat, which always drives granite & trap out of my head in the most unphilosophical manner.—

Many thanks for your very kind invitation to pay you a visit after the Newcastle meeting; but I shall not go there:13 when one gets only a months holidays in the year, one cant give it up to flatter & be flattered, which seems the grand object of the British Association. You see I sneer at science to flatter you, therefore am I a worthy brother in the cause.—

I saw a short time since one of the Miss Hollands, who told me some news about you.—14

Good bye | My dear Whitley. | Your sincere friend | Chas. Darwin


Whitley married Frances Whitley, his cousin, in 1836.
John Maurice Herbert had a reputation for telling lies (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Charles Whitley, 15 November [1831]).
Jonathan Henry Lovett Cameron was a friend from Shrewsbury School and Cambridge days. Cameron became rector of Astwick, Bedfordshire in 1838 (Alum. Cantab.).
Frederick Watkins, who had also attended Shrewsbury School and then Cambridge with CD, was elected fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1838 (Alum. Cantab.).
Richard Lister Venables, another of CD’s Cambridge contemporaries, had become rector of Whitney, Herefordshire, in 1834.
According to his ‘Journal’, CD went to Cambridge on 10 May 1838 (Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix II). He stayed four days with John Stevens Henslow and his wife.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin lived a few doors away from CD, at 43 Great Marlborough Street.
CD’s Journal and remarks, volume 3 of Robert FitzRoy’s Narrative, had been printed early in 1838, but publication was delayed until mid-1839 owing to FitzRoy’s slowness in preparing his volumes.
Zoology, under CD’s editorship, appeared in five parts between 1838 and 1843. See Correspondence vol. 2.
CD began writing Volcanic islands (1844) in October 1837, interrupting work on it to begin Coral reefs (1842). South America, the third part of the geology of the Beagle voyage, was published in 1846.
CD was elected secretary of the Geological Society of London on 16 February 1838, having at first declined the office (see Correspondence vol. 2, letter to William Whewell, [10 March 1837], and Appendix II).
The 1838 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held in August in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Miss Holland has not been identified. During CD’s voyage, Whitley had received news about CD from ‘Miss Holland at Newcastle’ (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter from C. T. Whitley, 5 February 1835). CD had socialised with members of the Holland family, distant relations of the Darwins, in April 1838 (Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Susan Darwin, [26 April 1838]).


Treasures recollections of old friends but seldom sees any. Has turned "a complete scribbler".

His scientific activities.

No wife in sight so far.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Thomas Whitley
Sent from
London, Gt Marlborough St, 36
MY 9 1838
Source of text
Shrewsbury School, Taylor Library
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 411A,” accessed on 4 March 2024,

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