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,

then she told me, and made me promise I would not tell, then I said, why I only wash my fett once a month at school, which I confess is nasty, but I cannot help it, for we have nothing to do it with, so then Caroline pretended to be quite sick, and left the room, so then I went and told erasumus, and he bust out in laughing and said I had better tell he to come and wash them her self, besides that she said she did not like sitting by me or Erasmus for we smelt of not washing all over, there we sat arguing away for a good while.

I remain your affectionately

Justice w a nose as big as your fist

January the 2, 1822

The second letter today

That could be my favorite new insult — “You smelt of not washing all over!”

I love how the brothers antagonize sister Caroline about personal hygiene, and invite her to come and wash the grubby little guy. And if someone can explain to me what he means by “nose as big as your fist,” I’ll buy you a beer. Origins adds [burst] after “Justice,” which I assume to be a little star he drew.


16 Responses

  1. I would think “nose as big as your fist” means he’d like her to have a bigger nose in order to better smell his “not washing all over”. I can’t see any other comments so I don’t know if anyone suggested this yet.

  2. I don’t know at which age exactly (certainly most people forget it before they have kids or become teachers), but you DO forget that every adult was 12 years old at one point of his or her life. Which is good and bad at the same time.
    Thanks for (re-)publishing this letter!

  3. Went from fighting about bathing to the theory of evolution in just a few short years. Not bad I’d say.

    Someday I’ll get that bathing thing down.

  4. Wow. Twelve years old and already writing on the De-Scent of Man.

  5. So Darwin was dirty – heh. I like how they antagonize Caroline too – very entertaining!

    Also, what kind of school only provides the necessary things to wash your feet once a month? That IS rather nasty.

  6. Fabulous! Thanks for sharing this. Good to know everyone was 12 at some point :)

  7. That is awesome, where did you get that book?

  8. wait, I just checked the title of this blog, maybe that last comment was a bit of a silly question

  9. Oh, Darwin. What an amusing kid.

  10. my favorite line is:

    “Justice w a nose as big as your fist”

    thanks for posting this.

  11. I think he means that there’s justice in the fact that his antagonist has to smell him (“w[ith] a nose as big as your fist”) and might very well be alluding to Stinky’s uncharitable and exaggerated opinion as to its size.

    It’s juvenile, of course, but it’s pretty funny – and quite an impressive command of sarcastic humor for a 12-year old.

  12. Haha, that’s cute! :)

  13. Haha tis a great insult, must remember ti use it :D


  14. I have two little brothers who seemed to go through that “stinky” mentality at the beginning stages of puberty. They refused to bathe no matter what! They began showering regularly about the time they started showing interest in girls.

    Boys are gross. This is not new information to the world.

  15. Since there seems to some doubt about the transcription with the [burst], might the sentence actually read “Justice is a nose as big as your fist?” It would sound like a quip appealing to a 12 year old.

  16. Hey! Sorry I didn’t get to moderate this post last weekend!

    I’d have to agree with many of you — it’s fantastic to see a 12-year-old version of a great thinker; he certainly wrote better than I did at that age.

    Also, remember that he’s writing in a ‘memorandum book,’ not to a particular person, so grammatical considerations might have gone out the window.

    Thanks for your comments! I’m much better about checking them during the week, I promise.


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