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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Erasmus Darwin   [4 March 1860]1

Sunday night

My dear William

You seem to have set about finding out what was best about your degree in a downright sensible manner;2 & as you will have two years mathematicks, & as you fancy reading for Law, I quite agree that you had better so decide. I do not, however, think that studying mathematicks & History or Law can have at all the same training effect on the mind. The concentrated attention required for a problem is just a faculty which could hardly be got without some training in very peculiar studies.—

But I do not mean at all by this, that you have not judged wisely: no doubt a lawyer besides his law-knowledge, some oratory, good judgment, also is greatly profited by diversified knowledge (a nice little catalogue of qualities requisite for a famous Lawyer; & you know I mean you to be Lord Chancellor & buy Holwood Park!!)3 & you will, I suppose have rather more time to pick up knowledge of all kinds.— If you do not dislike it, had you not better consult Abdy about reading aloud or oratory?4 & likewise about entering at Lincoln’s Inn or the Temple?—5 So much for the Law: I think you had certainly better write to Hemmings; but it will be a difficult letter to write.—6

How I shd like to see you in your Uniform: I do not hear much about the Rifles here.7 Mrs. Lubbock says that except Montagu all are very idle in drilling.8 Mamma’s visit to London answered pretty well,—at least the latter part.9 As we came home we called at a Picture’s dealers & bought a view on sea-coast of S. Wales in Oil for £12. s10.10 I think it looks well in the Dining Room: I shall be curious to hear what you will think about it— I lean for more oil-paintings; as they will be sure to last.— The House to day is rather bad: Etty very poorly & Lenny with very bad cough. I have had bad cold, & all the House has been poorly more or less; & Parslow has been in bed for a week.—11

I go to London tomorrow for one night to see my Doctor;12 but I am not very hopeful of his doing me much good. On Friday the Lyells & Tollets come here.13 A deluge of letters still keep pouring in about my Book, till I am got weary of praise. It is making a great row in America, where it has been reprinted & sells for 5s. A German Edition is preparing by very good Naturalist:14 & I hear of some foreign Reviews coming out.— It has been very well reviewed in N. America.—   There was rather fierce attack on it in Annals of Nat. History, by my friend Wollaston,15 & I hear it has been cut up in a paper read before Royal Soc. of Edinburgh.—16 By Jove the Book has made row enough, & I shd. now like to get on quietly with my work.

It will be jolly having you here at Easter; & I long for some Billiards    I have not had a game for a week or more.

My dear old Guillielmus | Your affect Father | C. Darwin


Dated by the reference to the expected visit of the Lyells on ‘Friday’. See n. 13, below.
William was in his second year at Christ’s College, Cambridge University, reading for the mathematical tripos.
Holwood Park, near Keston, almost two miles from Down, was the seat of Robert Monsey Rolfe, Baron Cranworth, who was lord chancellor of England from 1852 to 1858.
John Thomas Abdy was regius professor of civil law at Cambridge University.
Lincoln’s Inn, the Middle Temple, Inner Temple, and Gray’s Inn prepared law students for admission to the English bar. William was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1861.
CD refers to George Wirgman Hemming, the mathematician and law reporter. He was a fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge.
The volunteer movement of 1859 was sparked by a general fear of a French invasion following upon the outbreak of France’s war with Austria over hegemony in Lombardy. Many gentlemen joined local, semi-official military units that held monthly meetings to encourage rifle shooting. John William Lubbock had founded the Down Rifles unit in 1859. Joseph Parslow, the Darwin’s butler, was a member (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to John Lubbock, 17 December [1859]). William served in the University Volunteers and was also an officer in the Down Corps (F. Darwin 1914, p. 20). On 29 January 1860, CD bought a commission for William in the volunteers (CD’s Account book, Down House MS).
CD refers to John Lubbock’s wife, Ellen Frances Lubbock, and to Lubbock’s brother Montagu, who was 18 years old.
Emma Darwin’s diary records that she went to London on 24 February 1860.
The sum mentioned in the letter was recorded in CD’s Account book (Down House MS) on 17 February 1860. The picture was a view of the Mumbles, near Swansea, and is on display in the Darwin Museum, Down House.
In 1860, CD began consulting the London physician Edward Headland.
Emma Darwin’s diary records that Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell came to stay on 9 March 1860 and that the ‘Tollets’ came on 10 March. Emma probably refers to her childhood friends, Georgina and Ellen Harriet Tollet.
See letter to H. G. Bronn, [c. 25 February 1860].
Andrew Murray read a paper giving his criticisms of Origin at a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 20 February 1860 (Murray 1860a). See also letters to Andrew Murray, 28 April [1860] and 28 [April 1860]. There are two copies of Murray’s review in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL, one of which is heavily annotated.


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

Darwin, Francis. 1914. William Erasmus Darwin. Christ’s College Magazine 29: 16–23.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

[Wollaston, Thomas Vernon]. 1860a. Review of Origin of species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 5: 132–43. Reprinted in Hull 1973, pp. 127–40. [Vols. 6,7,8]


Discusses the direction of WED’s studies.

Tells of the response to the Origin and the impact that it has made in England and abroad.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 55
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2675,” accessed on 4 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8