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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   [25 July 1863]1



My dear William

There can be no doubt that the Anchusa would probably be a very important case for me.2 But would it not be a frightful bore for you to get the plants? Could you not hire a man (& I would pay) at place with spade & make him do the digging & packing for a dozen or score of plants would be heavy. It is a perennial, & though many would die, some would probably live.—3

The Boys return to school on the 12th of August.4 I do hope that you may be able to come before then.—5 It is a bad job Mrs. Atherley being sick.—6 We have Uncle Eras. here,7 & Strickland & Edmund have just gone.8 We have had the Leith Hill people & altogether there has been a very jolly party.9 Over & over again I have been wishing to see your dear old face here with the others. One day they all went to the Frys & had a gorgeous party with about 80 people chiefly from London & dancing on the Lawn & dinner in grand tent, Band, & ices &c &c.10 Another evening they all went to the Bonham Carters for Crocket.—11

This evening we have a party of another kind viz 30 children from the Union for tea & play.12 This evening Uncle Hensleigh & Fanny are coming.—13

George & all the Boys are very jolly. Do come as soon as you can.—

My hobby-horse at present is Tendrils; they are more sensitive to a touch than your finger; & wonderfully crafty & sagacious14

Good Bye my dearest William | Your affect. Father | C. Darwin

If you have time & inclination will you have a look at mid-styled Lythrum & see if you can really recognise difference in general appearance of the Plant. They are now just coming into full flower   Perhaps difference is when capsules swollen.15


The date is established by the reference to the departure of guests from Down House (see n. 8, below); 25 July 1863 was a Saturday.
CD is apparently responding to a letter from William that has not been found. In May 1863, William informed CD that he had discovered dimorphism in a plant that he identified as Anchusa officinalis; the species was subsequently identified as Pulmonaria angustifolia, another member of the Boraginaceae (see letter from W. E. Darwin, 4 May [1863] and n. 2). CD was anxious to investigate the occurrence of heterostyly in the Boraginaceae (see letters to W. E. Darwin, [5 May 1863] and [10 May 1863]).
In his letter to William of [10 May 1863], CD had requested seed of the plant, so that he could attempt crosses between the two forms in the following season. A note in William’s botanical notebook states: ‘on July 18. 63. I went to collect seeds and found all the flower stalks withered & seeds scattered’ (DAR 117: 68). However, it appears that William managed to send CD seedlings, which formed the basis for experiments in 1864 (see Forms of flowers, pp. 104–10, and DAR 110: A41–55).
Leonard, Francis, and George Howard Darwin were pupils at Clapham Grammar School in South London (see DNB s.v. Darwin, Sir George Howard; F. Darwin 1920, p. 63; and letter from G. V. Reed, 12 January 1863 and nn. 1 and 2).
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), William went to Down House on 1 August 1863.
Ellen Atherley was the wife of George Atherley, William’s partner in the Southampton and Hampshire Bank.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Erasmus Alvey Darwin arrived at Down House on 21 July 1863.
Sefton West Strickland was a friend of William’s from his time at Cambridge University (Freeman 1978). CD probably refers also to Edmund Langton, Emma Darwin’s nephew, who was a near-contemporary of Strickland’s at Cambridge. They visited Down House from 22 to 25 July (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)).
CD refers to the family of Josiah Wedgwood III and Caroline Sarah Wedgwood, who lived at Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the family stayed at Down House from 16 to 23 July, leaving Sophy Wedgwood behind on their departure.
The reference is apparently to James Thomas Fry, who lived at Baston, near the village of Hayes, about four miles north-west of Down (Post Office directory of the six home counties 1862).
Joanna Maria Bonham-Carter resided at Keston, about two miles north-west of Down. CD refers to croquet, which became popular in England at about this period (see EB).
The reference is apparently to children from the Bromley Union House, which was the local workhouse (working refuge for the indigent poor), located at Farnborough, about two miles north of Down (Post Office directory of the six home counties).
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Hensleigh and Frances Emma Elizabeth Wedgwood visited Down House from 25 to 28 July; they were accompanied by Eva Mackintosh, Frances Wedgwood’s niece.
CD refers to his experiments on climbing plants, begun in June 1863 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 [June 1863]). Many of the notes from these experiments are preserved in DAR 157.1 and 157.2.
In 1862, William reported to his father that he thought the general appearance of the mid-styled form of Lythrum salicaria was different from that of the other two forms; however, he had been unable to verify this at the end of the season, and subsequently doubted his assertion (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters to W. E. Darwin, [25 October 1862] and 30 [October 1862], and letter from W. E. Darwin, 28 October 1862). See also letter from W. E. Darwin, 21 August [1863].


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

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.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

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.

Post Office directory of the six home counties: Post Office directory of the six home counties, viz., Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. London: W. Kelly & Co. 1845–78.


Relates events at Down;

asks WED to make some observations on Lythrum.

His present hobby-horse is tendrils.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 112
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4199,” accessed on 24 July 2024,

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