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Darwin Correspondence Project

From S. R. S. Norton   20 November [1871]1

Dresden. | 9. Räcknitz Strasse—

Nov. 20th.

My dear Mr Darwin—

Truth compels me to state that I was not in search of pure science when I came across the little pamphlet which leaves here for Down tomorrow morning—far from it—but as I looked vainly, alas! for a french novel what should I see but the words “War Goethe ein Darwinianer”?2 Now I ask you, who are incapable of prejudice, if any better proof of German “fleissigkeit”3 is wanting than that these admirable pursuers of hidden truth have actually time enough & to spare to steal the best genius of other countries?— Being in true feminine style convinced, without knowing anything about the matter that Goethe was no Darwinianer—I have not read the pamphlet—but Mr Norton4 has & he tells me that the profound Schmidt is of my way of thinking— You shall decide whether yr great original was to have been seen some time since wooing the lovely sirens of Weimar5 rather than those most interesting inhabitants of warmer climes—

Writing you this nonsense gives me a pleasant opportunity of telling you that we have heard from my Aunts & Sister, most animated accounts of your sons’ visit to Cambridge.—6 They have left behind them many friends & the most agreeable impressions & what more can one ask to do in going to a foreign country?— My Sister & brother7 imply that there was an immense amount of laughing done— So I take it that my country furnished at least one very admirable element of enjoyment—Mirth.— I wish we might have been at home to return a little bit of your unbounded hospitality to us but perhaps one of these days you may be fired with the desire to see those monkeys which one of yr great novelists describes as gaily gambolling in the trees of Illinois!8 If such should be the case you will surely not overlook Cambridge, the home of all virtue & learning & at least for a time will rest at Shady Hill,—where novels and a most affectionate welcome will always await you9

You may be glad to know that we are most comfortably established in this dullest & most respectable of cities—& are all well— even Mrs. Norton10 may be called well now—but Germany is “langweilig”11 & I shall be glad when I find myself on the lovely shores of the dear little Island.

We send to you & yours warmest messages of regard—& Mr Norton bids me remember him very especially to yrself & Mrs. Darwin | Pray give her my love— | & always believe me | dear Mr Darwin— | Affectionately yours | Susan Norton.

Forgive Donatis Comet—which has sprung out of space12


The year is established by the reference to the visit of CD’s sons to the United States (see n. 6, below).
The pamphlet was by Oscar Schmidt (Graz: Leuschner & Lubensky, 1871). CD’s copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Fleissigkeit: diligence.
Susan Norton’s husband was Charles Eliot Norton.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived at Weimar from 1775 to the end of his life in 1832.
Susan Norton’s sister was Sara Sedgwick. Her aunts were Anne and Grace Ashburner. George Howard Darwin and Francis Darwin had visited the United States between August and October 1871 (letter to Asa Gray, 16 July [1871]).
Susan’s brother was Arthur George Sedgwick.
The Nortons had visited Down in 1868 and 1869 (see Correspondence vol. 16, letter to J. D. Hooker [8–10 September 1868], and Correspondence vol. 17, letter to Asa Gray, 1 June [1869]).The novelist has not been identified.
Shady Hill in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the family home of the Nortons (J. Turner 1999, p. 2).
Evidently Charles Norton’s mother, Catherine Eliot Norton.
Langweilig: boring.
The comet was named after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Donati, who observed it on 2 June 1858. Norton probably refers to a long, curved ink blot on the second page of the letter.


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

Turner, James. 1999. The liberal education of Charles Eliot Norton. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.


Sends CD a German pamphlet, "War Goethe ein Darwinianer?"

Letter details

Letter no.
Susan Ridley Sedgwick Norton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 172: 78
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8079,” accessed on 20 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19