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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Erasmus Alvey Darwin   [24 September – 10 October 1868]1

The Athenæum

Dear Charles.

Sylvester has just come up & spoken to me about Lenny saying how glad he should be to be of any use to him if he should be in any difficulty tho’ from what the others (Professors?) had said to him about Lenny he did not think he would have any difficulty (by which he meant getting into scrapes)2   I should think Lenny had better call on him.

He then began talking to me about what he had read at Norwich on the development of curves which he said was a kind of Darwinianism all curves being generated from a circle— it will be in the next Philosophical Magazine.3

I dare say Emma has forgotten that she left a Rolandi book in Q A St.4

Yours affec | E D


The date range is established from the date of Leonard Darwin’s admission to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (see n. 2, below), and by the relationship between this letter and the letter from E. A. Darwin, [11 October 1868].
James Joseph Sylvester was a professor of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (Lightman ed. 2004), where Leonard had started studying on 24 September 1868 (Records of the Royal Military Academy 1741–1892, p. 151). On Leonard’s winning a place at Woolwich, see the letter to Horace Darwin, 26 [July 1868] and n. 2.
An abstract of Sylvester’s paper ‘On the successive involutes to a circle’ was published in Report of the thirty-eighth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Norwich, Miscellaneous communications to the sections, pp. 10–11. The meeting was held from 19 to 26 August 1868. Sylvester’s article was published in the October issue of the Philosophical Magazine, followed by an article on the same topic in the December issue (Sylvester 1868a and 1868b).
The book has not been identified; however, the circulating library and bookselling firm of Peter Rolandi, specialising in foreign books, operated from 20 Berners Street, London (Post Office London directory). Emma Darwin recorded in her diary (DAR 242) that the Darwins went to London on 16 July 1868 before travelling to the Isle of Wight. The Darwins had previously visited Erasmus in March (see CD’s ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 16, Appendix II)).


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

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

Records of the Royal Military Academy 1741–1892. 2d edition. Woolwich: F. J. Cattermole. [1892.]


Has talked with J. J. Sylvester [Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich] and thinks Leonard [Darwin] should call on him.

Letter details

Letter no.
Erasmus Alvey Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 105: B60–1
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6339,” accessed on 4 June 2023,

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