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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Caroline Darwin   27 February 1837


Monday, Feb.y 27th. 1837.1

My dear Caroline

It is nearly twelve o’clock, but before going to bed I will write my last letter from Cambridge.— I have just been reading a short paper to the Philosoph. Socy. of this place, and exhibiting some specimens & giving a verbal account of them.2 It went off very prosperously & we had a good discussion in which Whewell & Sedgwick took an active part.— Sedgwick has just come from Norwich & we have been drinking tea with him.— He always enquires very particularly about my Father and all of you.— I really sometimes think he will go mad; he is so very absent & odd, but a more high-minded man does not anywhere exist. On Friday morning I migrate. My Cambridge life is ending most pleasantly.— You enquired in yr. last letter about Lyell’s Speech; very little was said about me, as of course he could only allude to published accounts.—3 But if you think it worth while I will send it down to you,—(and at the same time the Missionary paper, which has arrived from C. of Good Hope.) I heard from Lyell yesterday, he says it will be published in two or three days.— He wants me to be up on Saturday for a party at Mr. Babbage, who has sent me a card for his parties this season Lyell says Babbage’s parties are the best in the way of literary people in London—and that there is a good mixture of pretty women—4

You tell me you do not see what is new in Sir J. Herschell’s idea about the chronology of the old Testament being wrong.— I have used the word Chronology in dubious manner, it is not to the days of Creation which he refers, but to the lapse of years since the first man made his wonderful appearance on this world— As far as I know everyone has yet thought that the six thousand odd years has been the right period but Sir J. thinks that a far greater number must have passed since the Chinese, the         , the Caucasian languages separated from one stock.—5

The other day I met at Mr. Peacocks a dozen young lordlings.— You, who are a “Bishop”, will be pleased to hear that I feel quite full of admiration for these Lordlings.— It would have been very difficult to have picked a more intelligent, well informed set of men.— I happened to sit by the heir of the Howards:6 ought not my soul to be exalted?— It really is very curious the great change which a few years has made in the young men from the Upper classes.— A far larger proportion of them go on Sundays to St. Marys to hear the Sermon, than from any other set amongst the Undergraduates.— I am sure my Father will say there is some glimmerings of common sense in this respect for young lords— Give my best love to all at home. Really I will not write another letter so untidy as this. My dear Caroline, write soon. I do so like hearing from home, and never mind whether the letters contain any news or not—only write, write, write—

Yours affectionly, | C. Darwin.


The copyist has written ‘Feb.y. 29th. 1837.’, which has been corrected in pencil to read ‘27t h’. 27 February 1837 was a Monday.
The minutes of the General Meeting of the Cambridge Philosophical Society on 27 February 1837 record the event as follows: ‘An account by Mr C. Darwin of fused sand tubes found near the Rio Plata, which were exhibited along with several other specimens of rocks.’ CD’s paper was not printed in the Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, but the tubes are discussed in Journal and remarks, pp. 69–71.
C. Lyell 1837a. Besides mentioning CD’s ‘Observations of proofs of recent elevation on the coast of Chili’ (Collected papers 1: 41–3), Lyell reported briefly on the ‘most striking results’ of Richard Owen’s examination of CD’s South American fossil collection. Owen had written to Lyell about his preliminary findings in a letter of 23 January 1837 (Wilson 1972, pp. 436–7).
For an account of the brilliant company at one of Charles Babbage’s parties, see Ticknor 1876, 2: 178. Ticknor’s journals also contain excellent character sketches of William Whewell, Adam Sedgwick, and other friends and acquaintances of CD.
J. F. W. Herschel’s views on Old Testament chronology were expressed in a letter to Charles Lyell of 20 February 1836: ‘when we see what amount of change 2000 years has been able to produce in the languages of Greece & Italy or 1000 in those of Germany France & Spain we naturally begin to ask how long a period must have lapsed since the Chinese, the Hebrew, the Delaware & the Malesass [Malagasy] had a point in common with the German & Italian & each other.— Time! Time! Time!— we must not impugn the Scripture Chronology, but we must interpret it in accordance with whatever shall appear on fair enquiry to be the truth for there cannot be two truths.’ (The letter, in the American Philosophical Society collection, has been transcribed and published in Cannon 1961. Extracts were published in Babbage 1837.) A space has been left by the copyist.


Babbage, Charles. 1837. The ninth Bridgewater treatise. A fragment. London.

Cannon, Walter F. 1961. The impact of uniformitarianism. Two letters from John Herschel to Charles Lyell, 1836–1837. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 105: 301–14.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

‘Elevation on the coast of Chili’: Observations of proofs of recent elevation on the coast of Chili, made during the survey of His Majesty’s ship Beagle, commanded by Capt. FitzRoy, R.N. [Read 4 January 1837.] By Charles Darwin. Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 2 (1838): 446–9. [Shorter publications, pp. 32–5.]

Ticknor, George. 1876. Life, letters, and journals of George Ticknor. Edited by George Stillman Hillard. 2 vols. Boston: Osgood. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.

Wilson, Leonard Gilchrist. 1972. Charles Lyell. The years to 1841: the revolution in geology. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


Has just given a paper [on "Sand tubes"] at Cambridge Philosophical Society and exhibited some specimens. It went well, with Whewell and Sedgwick taking an active part.

Herschel thinks 6000–odd years since the creation not nearly long enough to explain the separations from a single stock.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Caroline Sarah (Caroline) Darwin/Caroline Sarah (Caroline) Wedgwood
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 154: 51
Physical description
C 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 346,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2