Darwin Letter Friday

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Darwin Letter Friday

Man oh man, Charles had a passive aggressive girlfriend!

This letter comes from "The Beagle Letters"

This letter comes from "The Beagle Letters"

Charles had taken a liking to Fanny Owen through his Cambridge years, but as he departed on the Beagle voyage, well…

She dumped him.

Apparently he cared more about his beetle collection than about her. She wished she had given him a pin cushion for his instruments of death. She also refers to his collection as his beetle army.

I know this is a long one, but it gets better and better (or bitter?) with the kicker being the last half and final salutation.

Try as I might, I can only read the italicized text as sarcasm. They’re hers, not mine.

From Fanny Owen to Charles Darwin:

2. Northernhay Place, Exeter


My dear Charles,

I have this evening heard from Caroline that you leave home the end of this week-and that you wish to have a good bye from me before you go. I had not the least idea you were to go so soon, for they told me it was the end of October you sailed, so I hoped and fully expected I should have been at home in time to see you- I cannot tell you how disappointed & vexed I am that that cannot be. Little did I think the last time I saw you at the poor old Forest, that it would be so long before we should meet again!! This horrid Devonshire-fool that I was to come here- I shall just get home when you are gone I dare say- My dear Charles I do hope you will enjoy yourself & be the happiest of the happy, I would give any thing to see you once more before you go, for it does make me melancholy to think the time you are to be away-& Heaven knows what may have become of all of us by this time two years. at all events we must be grown old & steady- the pleasant days, and fun we have had at the Forest can never come over again- how I wish I was there this week to have one last chat with you I cannot bear to think you are really going clear away, without my saying one good bye!!

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Darwin Letter Friday

The collector bug strikes early.

At the age of twelve, in addition to being stinky, Charles Darwin reminds himself that if he is going to be a great naturalist, he’ll need a place for his stash.

That’s right, he’s building a fort.

In Summer, 1823, he says, the work must start!

January 12th, 1822–

remember next summer to make two cave one for warlike instruments, the othe<r> for relicks. Note spoon, old spear knife squirt if it can be found, and the name cut on the ash tree over the seat in the bank by the nut tree I beliefe that is all ove[r] the ief a plan of a machine

Read carefully to see Darwin's letter notation. When you see the red flag, come to Charles!

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Darwin Letter Friday

This week: Stinky, stinky, 12-year-old Darwin

Charles Darwin, at the age of 12, wrote several letters into a ‘Memorandum book’ while on vacation from school. He was staying at his family home in Shrewsbury, and apparently not bathing much. Ah, the days when washing was a chore!

Please be advised that the spelling mistakes and lack of punctuation are his, not mine.

To Dear Friend, January 4, 1822

My Dear friend,

you must know that after my Geography, she said I should go down to ask for Richards poney, just as I was going, she said she must ask me not a very decent question, that was whether I wash all over every morning no then she said it was quite disgustin then she asked me if I did every other morning, and I said no then she said how often I did, and I said once a week, then she said of cour you wash your feet every day, and I said no, then she begun saying how very disgusting and went on that way a good while, then she said I ought to do it, I said I would wash my neck and shoulders, then she said you had better do it all over then I said upon my word I would not,

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Darwin Letter Friday

You can do it, Chas!

Charles Darwin wanted what many academics still strive for: to get published!

It was difficult for other reasons, in his case. Murray, the publisher, might reject a paper that runs “slap counter to Genesis.” Look out, Christendom, here comes Darwin! He mentions this concern in a letter below.

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Today is the Anniversary of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial

July 10, 1925: jury selection begins on Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan’s famous trial in Dayton, Tennessee on the teaching of evolution in schools. The story is a little more complicated that one might think. Scopes, it turns out, agreed to be arrested. And the town was seeking some publicity.

NPR‘s All Things Considered ran a great piece on this.

Listen Here >>

What’s all the hubbub about the “Dangers of Darwinism”?

Well, Darwin experienced a lot of the same struggles with his religion, and he writes about them in his letters. We post one every Friday here on this site. Tomorrow, I’ll have to find one rife with conflicted religious beliefs. Until then, I’ll leave you with another good little nugget courtesy of NPR — a song about monkeys and religion by country music legend Vernon Dalhart.

Then to Dayton came a man
with his new ideas so grand;
And he said we came from monkeys long ago;
But in teaching his beliefs Mr. Scopes found only grief;
For they would not let their old religion go.
You may find a new belief;
it will only bring you grief;
For a house that’s built on sand is sure to fall;
And wherever you may turn
there’s a lesson you will learn;
That the old religion’s better after all.

Darwin Letter Friday

Happy Independence Day! To celebrate, below is a letter written by Darwin on July 4, 1858 to an American: botanist Asa Gray. Gray pretty much started the botany program at Harvard, and was an immense help with developing Darwin’s carefully wrought theory.

Darwin observed peculiarities in Dicentra (Bleeding Heart) flowers that he links to the cross-pollinating effect of bees. Interesting stuff, to be sure, but there’s more. The final paragraph deals with the unexpected arrival of Wallace, and his presentation days ago (along with Wallace’s paper) to the Linnean Society. When Darwin wrote this letter, the theory of natural selection was coming together.

<< See Monday’s WIRED article about this presentation >>

Down Bromley Kent

July 4th.— 1858

My dear Gray

I have not answered your note of May 21 for I have had death & illness & misery amongst my children.f1 And we are all going immediately from home for some weeks.f2

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Darwin Letter Friday

UPDATE 7-25: Check out this week’s letter: Darwin Builds a Fort!

Charles Darwin was a typical teenager. He thought that some of his teachers were full of crap, and wasn’t afraid to say so (at least to his sister).

This letter from Charles to his sister Caroline has a few choice words for a professor Duncan, namely that his lectures “cannot be translated into any word expressive enough of his stupidity.”

I don’t remember if I ever talked that way about my teachers, but if I did, they would be right to call me a snotty little punk. Nevertheless, it’s coming from a free-thinker who revolutionized scientific thinking, defying some of the biggest authorities of his day. So enjoy this very amusing letter; just a hint of what was to come.


Jan. 6th. | 1826—

My dear Caroline,

Many thanks for your very entertaining letter, which was a great relief after hearing a long stupid lecture from Duncan on Materia Medica— But as you know nothing either of the Lecture or Lecturers, I will give you a short account of them.— Dr. Duncan is so very learned that his wisdom has left no room for his sense, & he lectures, as I have already said, on the Materia Medica, which cannot be translated into any word expressive enough of its stupidity.

These few last mornings, however, he has shown signs of improvement & I hope he will “go on as well as can be expected.”f1 His lectures begin at eight in the morning.— Dr. Hopef2 begins at ten o’clock, & I like both him & his lectures very much. (After which Erasmus goes to Mr. Lizarsf3 on Anatomy”, who is a charming Lecturer) At 12, the Hospital, after which I attend Munro on Anatomy— I dislike him & his Lectures so much that I cannot speak with decency about them.f4 He is so dirty in person & actions.— Thrice a week we have what is called Clinical Lectures, which means lectures on the sick people in the Hospitals—-these I like very much.—f5 I said this account should be short, but I am afraid it has been too long like the Lectures themselves.—

I will be a good boy, and tell something about Johnson again (not but what I am very much surprised that Papa should so forget himself as to call me, a Collegian in the University of Edinburgh, a boy.) he has changed his lodgings for the third time, he has got very cheap ones, but I am afraid it will not answer, for they must make up by cheating.— I hope you like Erasmus’ official news, he means to begin every letter so.— You mentioned in your letter that Emma was staying with you, if she is not gone ask her to tell Jos.f6 that I have not succeeded in getting any [titanium],f7 but that I will try again. Tell Katty and Susan I shall be very grateful if they will write to me, it is so pleasant receiving letters; and I hope, although our correspondence has begun late, you will send me many more nice affecting letters about dear little black nose. Erasmus thinks I shall have more pleasure in seeing it than all the rest of the families put together. You seem to hold the same opinion with regard to my dear little nephew.— I want to know how old I shall be next Birthday. I believe 17, & if so I shall be forced to go abroad for one year since it is necessary that I shall have completed my 21st. year before I take my degree. Now you have no business to be frowning & puzzling over this letter for I did not promise to write a good hand to you.

I remain your af— dear Caroline, | C. Darwin.

Love to Papa & tell him I am going to write to him in a few days—

Visit the Darwin Correspondence Project


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