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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. H. Darwin   [27] March [1868]1

Trin. Coll. ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠

Friday Mar. ⁠⟨⁠27⁠⟩⁠

My dear Father,

Grove’s account ⁠⟨⁠of the⁠⟩⁠ bar does seem rather dis⁠⟨⁠mal.⁠⟩⁠2 But I think that if he thought science might be a good thing for a young barrister it is somewhat encouraging and that it would not lead to any of the great prizes seems almost of no consequence. I don’t think I should like to take to business, for I should prefer as far as I can see to be a poorer man & try & do something with my head than to go in for the monotonous grind of business. In comparing the bar with Civil Engineering3 it is ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ worth considering that ⁠⟨⁠one⁠⟩⁠ does get some holidays. ⁠⟨⁠Al⁠⟩⁠so if business will not come ⁠⟨⁠the⁠⟩⁠ bar is generally a better place ⁠⟨⁠for⁠⟩⁠ a fresh start than Engineering ⁠⟨⁠is⁠⟩⁠. But then again I suppose ⁠⟨⁠one⁠⟩⁠ is rather more likely to make money at Engineering than the other. On the whole I think I still incline to the bar but I don’t think I will absolutely settle until I can have one more talk over it with you; I shall be leaving here early next week. I suppose you leave London about that time.

I can’t imagine what Wallace can want that problem done for.— He will find something about it in Thomson & Tait art. 649   it is excessively difficult.4 I have worked out an easier case approximately—when the plate is square & only bends in one direction—but I can’t think it will be much good to him— I thought perhaps he put it as a round plate thinking to make it easier. I send it by post to you.5 Has Wallace seen my “Sterility”. I suppose if he has he has squashed it awfully.—6 I have just finished the [animiles] & am going to read Pan again.7

I have been leading a very dissipated life lately—concerts & dinners etc. I dined at Mortlock’s the banker’s on Sunday— there were only Mrs. M. & two dons there.8

Swettenham9 came up last night to finish keeping his term. My new prize Macaulay looks very gorgeous on my shelf— my other one isn’t done yet.10 I managed to cut open my eyebrow yesterday at tennis— I was hitting a ball with my whole strength against a wall & the raquet flew out my hand & bounded off the wall & hit me just above the eye—11 however the only effect is that my beauty is adorned with strips of plaster.

Your affectionate Son G. H. Darwin


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to G. H. Darwin, [24 March 1868]. The Friday after 24 March 1868 was 27 March.
CD had visited William Robert Grove to discuss the possibility of George’s studying for a career in the law. In a letter to George of [24 March 1868], CD reported Grove’s ‘dismal view of things’.
George had earlier sought advice from Edward Cresy on a career in engineering (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to Edward Cresy, 7 September [1865] and n. 2).
In his letter of 19 March 1868, Alfred Russel Wallace had asked whether George could help solve a problem in mathematical physics. The problem, which was enclosed on a separate sheet, has not been found. George refers to Thomson and Tait 1867, pp. 496–7, where the authors give complex equations for determining flexural and shearing stresses on a circular plate.
The calculation of the problem has not been found.
The reference is to the enclosure to the letter to A. R. Wallace, [21 March 1868]. George had written a critique of Wallace’s argument that hybrid sterility could result from natural selection. For Wallace’s reply to George’s comments, see the letter from A. R. Wallace, 24 March [1868].
George evidently refers to Variation and to the chapter on pangenesis (Variation 2: 357–404).
George refers to Edmund John Mortlock and Mary Jane Mortlock. The two dons have not been identified.
George had been awarded a book prize worth £10 by Trinity College for being the Trinity scholar with the highest standing in the mathematical tripos (Cambridge University calendar 1868, p. 399). He evidently chose a work by Thomas Babington Macaulay, as well as another book, which has not been identified.
The reference is to real tennis, which is played in an enclosed court with walls.


Cambridge University calendar: The Cambridge University calendar. Cambridge: W. Page [and others]. 1796–1950.

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

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Discusses law versus engineering and business as a career.

Supposes ARW will have "squashed" GHD’s criticisms of his notes on sterility.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Howard Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Trinity College, Cambridge
Source of text
DAR 210.2: 3
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6047,” accessed on 31 January 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16