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Darwin Correspondence Project

From L. M. Forster to H. E. Litchfield   20 February 1873


Feb. 20th. 1873

My dear Harrot

I can quite recommend Plathe and think he would do your work very well, so I will tell Ht.1 to send his address as I have not got his new one. I know tho’ that he is near Mrs. Nassau Senior & I believe he teaches daily at her house, so a note to her care would reach him.2 He is not my ideal master because I like a stupid well informed man to be a perfect tool in my hands when I am learng. a language, but such a one would have taught me nothing under 12 and I doubt whether any untrained mind can supply all the energy necessary to conquer a language. I mean that if I were now learning a language for the 1st. time I think Plathe wd. teach me better than the patient plodr. for he who was content to unravel my difficulties in the order & shape in which I put them before him & from whom I learnt more in consequence than from any master I ever had. Plathe is over flowing with good nature & is clever energetic & often original—a great talker and keenly interested in every thing that comes before him & I fancy if he had time your’s is the sort of work he would take for love. He is blessed such good health & spirits that he is a most unflagging goer & I fancy is the kind of man to enliven men tired with their monotonous works. I hope Richard wont over do himself, but I believe you are right to let him try the works—one must not hoard one’s valuables tho’ it is such a temptation to do it that I think you very good for resisting.3

I wanted to write to you but have quite exhausted myself lately in Wedgwood, Whitaker & Clapham directions.4 I am so often asked for advice & I never have any to give, & even my opinions are a sort of inverted Descent of man & I can only shew their grandparents & let other people deduct their own dogmas. If I could but keep a stock of the latter ready to hand it would save me such a lot of trouble. Whether to marry & what on earth to do when you are married are subjects to drive an old maid mad when driven in a pair.5 It’s quite a relief to turn to Willie & write about pigeons & snipes, Scotch Collies and patent axles.6

I have been a good deal interested by Fawcett’s Britsh. labourer.7 Have you read it? A series of lectures written 8 or 10 years back & pubd. then & foretelling some of the present difficulties to a curious extent it seems to me.

I dont think I told you how strongly I was reminded of one of my Cannes boatmen by the bit in the expression book about shewing the teeth in anger—8 I cannot fancy a stronger instance of it; we were talking of the war & I was drawing the men out & rather baiting them with a careless sort of pity for the exiled Empr., a dark Italian looking man got increasingly fierce & scowling & said it was his own fault he was an exile—why did he not return, the traitor! to answer for his deeds like a man?9 I said 12 mockingly still, that was the last thing I blamed him for & I put it to the man what sort of a welcome he individually would give him? I declare tho’ I heard no word of his answer it frightened me out of all jesting, he drew back & up the corners of his mouth till I saw every tooth in his head and to illustrate what he was sayg. he clashed his teeth together so that my impression was he would fly at the Empr.’s throat like a bulldog. I was thoroughly frightened & yet so curious to know whether he really said what he acted, the whole boat was between us as he growled out the few words, that I asked him agn. what he would do shewg. I did not catch his meaning, he had been resting on his oars but then he pulled them in & using his hands to express his meaning with a savage grin “je lui torderais le cou comme ça”10 giving a twist with his hands & shewd. his teeth, but not clashing them as before. Somehow that seemed more human & I did not mind it so much, but the 1st. action with the teeth was appalling & I felt as if in danger from a wild beast. Even the milder edition expressed too much feeling for my taste & much as I like to study character I did not go out with my friends again. I felt as if I had played with edged tools & even at this time, after the lapse of a year to soften & sober impressions I cannot resist the conviction that I could chaff that man into drowning me, were he & I alone in a boat. I have often had to do with bad tempers & rough men but had no idea before how they might frighten me. I think that unconsciously both the man & I must have identified myself with the Empr. so that a portion of his wrath hit me as it were. So when I fancy myself tossing about in sunshine on the Medr. or think how well it wd. make me, it is with the light hearted brothers Lambert, etat 10 and 20, whose greatest excitet. was racing a steamboat & their highest ambition to teach me to fish by torch light.11 I am glad yr. boys are better12   The Langtons are delayed here by the old man not being well but they hope to go in a few days—13

I am getting on very well, & am so glad H’s visit was so successful— Yr. most affect | L M F.

Mrs N Senior’s address is Lavender Hill Clapm. Comn.— but I am writg a card to Hetta14

CD annotations

1.1 I … me. 3.3] crossed blue crayon
4.1 I dont] after opening square bracket blue crayon
4.3 The Langtons …Hetta 6.2] crossed blue crayon
5.2 L M F] after ‘Laura Forster’ blue crayon


Probably Henrietta Louisa Synnot (see nn. 4 and 14, below).
Forster refers to Jane Elizabeth Senior. Plathe has not been identified.
Henrietta’s husband, Richard Buckley Litchfield, was serving as both vice-principal and secretary of the Working Men’s College during a period of restructuring (R. B. Litchfield, Record, personal and domestic, vol. 1 (DAR 248/1: 17–18)).
Forster was a close friend of Katherine Euphemia Wedgwood (Effie) and Hope Wedgwood; Marianne Thornton, Forster’s aunt, and her cousin Henrietta Synnot lived in Clapham (L. M. Forster, ‘Journal’, ff. 26 and 29 (King’s College Cambridge, PP/EMF/22 vol. 3/10)); L. M. Forster, ‘Recollections’, p. 171 (King’s College Cambridge, PP/EMF/22 vol. 4/7)). Whitaker has not been identified.
Effie Wedgwood’s engagement to Thomas Henry Farrer was announced in February 1873 (R. B. Litchfield, Record, personal and domestic, vol. 1 (DAR 248/1: 18)).
Forster probably refers to her brother William Howley Forster.
Forster refers to Henry Fawcett’s book, The economic position of the British labourer (Fawcett 1865).
See Expression, pp. 12, 243–6. Annotations in Henrietta’s hand indicate that she forwarded the letter to CD and directed his attention to this paragraph.
Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III), former emperor of France, was living in exile in England (EB).
Je lui torderais le cou comme ça: I would wring his neck like this (French).
The Lambert brothers have not been identified; ‘etat’ is a misspelling of ‘aetat.’, a common abbreviation for aetatis (Latin), meaning ‘aged’.
Forster probably refers to Henrietta’s brothers. George Howard Darwin had been unwell in January (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Forster refers to Edmund and Emily Caroline Langton, and Edmund’s father, Charles Langton.
Forster probably refers to her cousin Henrietta Synnot, a neighbour of Senior’s (see n. 4, above).


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

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Fawcett, Henry. 1865. The economic position of the British labourer. Cambridge, London: Macmillan and Co.

‘Recollections’: Recollections of the development of my mind and character. By Charles Darwin. In Evolutionary writings, edited by James A. Secord. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008.


Recommends a language teacher.

Remarks on expression.

Letter details

Letter no.
Laura Mary Forster
Henrietta Emma Darwin/Henrietta Emma Litchfield
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 164: 159
Physical description
ALS 8pp †(by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8778,” accessed on 28 June 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21