skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles and Emma Darwin to William Erasmus Darwin   [4 May 1863]1



My dear W.

(Papa is dictating)

I am very glad to hear of the plant, but you are worse than a villain thus to tantalize me.3 I hope it is not the Buck bean for that wd not be new, tho I feel a special interest about it.4 Compare the papillæ on the stigma. If possible compare & count the ovules in the two forms. Look for nectar. If pollen is very different & you have time you might see whether both kinds are on the stigma & both penetrated. If the case turns out good I shall insist on your sending a communication to Linn. Soc. thro’ me.

You might begin thus “as the existence of two forms in the same species of plant has lately been shewn to be of functional importance I beg permission to lay the following case before the Linn. Soc”5

But after all perhaps the case will break down as so many have with me.

Now It’s me—

I do hope poor little Evelyn will not be very ill.6 Mrs Ashworth’s death is most remarkable—7 Your father remains so very languid & weak in the same way that he was after our London visit that we have almost given up all hopes of his being brisk enough to go to L. H. P. where we had intended driving to from here on Wednesday8   Any how Henrietta & Horace9 will go. & we go home on Thursday, so you must not send off your mysterious flower without knowing where we are—

(Have you written about the photographs of your father to Cambridge as he wants to send one   Please write if not.)10

Yesterday was a most lovely day & we (all but yr father) walked over the common to look for buck bean but I suppose we are too early.11 We have the pony here & it is a most charming country for riding. Hen. goes about by herself—

Edmund has invited the Josselinas to the boat races at Cambridge which pleases them very much. Uncle C. L. takes them & Aunt Eliz. Chaperones them.12 Our visit here has not done Horace any good tho’ he has a good deal of enjoyment but his stomach is worse than usual.

You have heard of G. leaving St John’s he was so disgusted by the looks of his fellow students.13 Mr Wrigley has been most amiable about it & I think the upshot will be that he will go for a year to a private tutor as he is very young.14

Goodbye my dear old man   yours, | E. D.


Dated by the references to the Darwin family’s visits to Hartfield Grove and Leith Hill Place (see nn. 2 and 8, below); the Monday before the Darwin family left Hartfield Grove was 4 May 1863.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwin family stayed at Hartfield Grove in Hartfield, Sussex, the home of Charles Langton, between 27 April and 6 May 1863.
The letter from William has not been found. William’s observations related to a possibly dimorphic plant, later identified as Pulmonaria angustifolia (see following letter and n. 1). CD was interested in finding further examples of dimorphic species after discovering that dimorphic flowers in Primula and Linum were an adaptation for reciprocal pollination (see ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula and ‘Two forms in species of Linum).
CD refers to the mainly aquatic perennial Menyanthes trifoliata, in which the occurrence of dimorphism was an established fact (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to C. C. Babington, 20 January [1862] and n. 3). CD was anxious to examine this species and had made attempts to obtain specimens in 1862 (see ibid.).
William’s observations on dimorphism in Pulmonaria angustifolia were not communicated to the Linnean Society; however, CD gave a detailed account of them in Forms of flowers, pp. 105–7.
The reference is to Evelyn George Hammond Atherley, son of William’s banking partner George Atherley (‘Genealogical notes’, Records research room, Southampton City Archives).
Mrs Ashworth has not been further identified.
Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey, was the home of Josiah Wedgwood III and his wife Caroline, CD’s sister. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins stayed at Leith Hill Place from Wednesday 6 May 1863 until 13 May, when they returned to Down House. On Tuesday 5 May 1863, Emma recorded in her diary that CD had been ‘poorly & languid all week’. CD had been in London for ten days in February (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)).
Henrietta Emma and Horace Darwin.
Emma apparently refers to the photograph of CD taken by William in April 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, frontispiece). In 1861, William was studying at Christ’s College, Cambridge (Alum. Cantab.), and may have deposited the negative plate with a firm of photographers there. CD wanted a copy of the photograph to send to Roland Trimen (see letter to Roland Trimen, 23 May [1863]).
On Sunday 3 May 1863, Emma Darwin recorded in her diary (DAR 242) that it had been a ‘beautiful day’ and that they had ‘walked to Brook on common’. Buck bean (see n. 4, above) flowers between April and June.
The ‘Josselinas’ was a family nickname for the daughters of Caroline and Josiah Wedgwood III (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to W. E. Darwin, [17 February 1857] and n. 10). Sophy Wedgwood was 21 years old, Margaret 19, and Lucy 16. Emma also refers to Charles Langton, Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood, and Charles Langton’s son, Edmund Langton, who was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge (Freeman 1978, Darwin pedigree, Admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge).
In 1863, George Howard Darwin competed unsuccessfully for an entrance scholarship at St John’s College, Cambridge (DNB). See also letter to Edward Cresy, 13 May [1863].
Alfred Wrigley was headmaster of Clapham Grammar School (Alum. Cantab.), where George had been a student since 1856 (DNB). It was subsequently decided that George should return to school for another year (see letter to Edward Cresy, 13 May [1863]).


Admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge: Admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge. Edited by W. W. Rouse Ball and J. A. Venn. 5 vols. London: Macmillan. 1911–16.

Alum. Cantab.: Alumni Cantabrigienses. A biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900. Compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. 10 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1922–54.

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

Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]


Glad to hear of the plant; CD instructs WED to make further observations. If it is a good case he will insist on WED’s sending a communication to the Linnean Society.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin; Emma Wedgwood/Emma Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 219.1: 55
Physical description
ALS (ED) 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4139F,” accessed on 18 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11