The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 88 of 188


Charles Darwin to W.D. Fox.

43 Great Marlborough Street,
November 6th [1836].

My dear Fox,

I have taken a shamefully long time in answering your letter. But the busiest time of the whole voyage has been tranquillity itself to this last month. After paying Henslow a short but very pleasant visit, I came up to town to wait for the “Beagle’s” arrival. At last I have removed all my property from on board, and sent the specimens of Natural History to Cambridge, so that I am now a free man. My London visit has been quite idle as far as Natural History goes, but has been passed in most exciting dissipation amongst the Dons in science. All my affairs, indeed, are most prosperous; I find there are plenty who will undertake the description of whole tribes of animals, of which I know nothing. So that about this day month I hope to set to work tooth and nail at the Geology, which I shall publish by itself.

It is quite ridiculous what an immensely long period it appears to me since landing at Falmouth. The fact is I have talked and laughed enough for years instead of weeks, so [that] my memory is quite confounded with the noise. I am delighted to hear you are turned geologist: when I pay the Isle of Wight a visit, which I am determined shall somehow come to pass, you will be a capital cicerone to the famous line of dislocation. I really suppose there are few parts of the world more interesting to a geologist than your island. Amongst the great scientific men, no one has been nearly so friendly and kind as Lyell. I have seen him several times, and feel inclined to like him much. You cannot imagine how good-naturedly he entered into all my plans. I speak now only of the London men, for Henslow was just like his former self, and therefore a most cordial and affectionate friend. When you pay London a visit I shall be very proud to take you to the Geological Society, for be it known, I was proposed to be a F.G.S. last Tuesday. It is, however, a great pity that these and the other letters, especially F.R.S., are so very expensive.

I do not scruple to ask you to write to me in a week’s time in Shrewsbury, for you are a good letter writer, and if people will have such good characters they must pay the penalty. Good-bye, dear Fox.


[His affairs being thus so far prosperously managed he was able to put into execution his plan of living at Cambridge, where he settled on December 10th, 1836. He was at first a guest in the comfortable home of the Henslows, but afterwards, for the sake of undisturbed work, he moved into lodgings. He thus writes to Fox, March 13th, 1837, from London:–

“My residence at Cambridge was rather longer than I expected, owing to a job which I determined to finish there, namely, looking over all my geological specimens. Cambridge yet continues a very pleasant, but not half so merry a place as before. To walk through the courts of Christ’s College, and not know an inhabitant of a single room, gave one a feeling half melancholy. The only evil I found in Cambridge was its being too pleasant: there was some agreeable party or another every evening, and one cannot say one is engaged with so much impunity there as in this great city.”

A trifling record of my father’s presence in Cambridge occurs in the book kept in Christ’s College combination-room, where fines and bets were recorded, the earlier entries giving a curious impression of the after-dinner frame of mind of the fellows. The bets were not allowed to be made in money, but were, like the fines, paid in wine. The bet which my father made and lost is thus recorded:–

“February 23, 1837.

Mr. Darwin v. Mr. Baines, that the combination-room measures from the ceiling to the floor more than (x) feet. 1 Bottle paid same day.

“N.B. Mr. Darwin may measure at any part of the room he pleases.”

Besides arranging the geological and mineralogical specimens, he had his ‘Journal of Researches’ to work at, which occupied his evenings at Cambridge. He also read a short paper at the Zoological Society (“Notes upon Rhea Americana,” ‘Zool. Soc. Proc.’ v. 1837, pages 35, 36.), and another at the Geological Society (‘Geol. Soc. Proc.’ ii. 1838, pages 446-449.), on the recent elevation of the coast of Chile.

Early in the spring of 1837 (March 6th) he left Cambridge for London, and a week later he was settled in lodgings at 36 Great Marlborough Street; and except for a “short visit to Shrewsbury” in June, he worked on till September, being almost entirely employed on his ‘Journal.’ He found time, however, for two papers at the Geological Society. (“A sketch of the deposits containing extinct mammalia in the neighbourhood of the Plata,” ‘Geol. Soc. Proc.’ ii. 1838, pages 542-544; and ‘On certain areas of elevation and subsidence in the Pacific and Indian oceans, as deduced from the study of coral formations.” ‘Geol. Soc. Proc’ ii. 1838, pages 552-554.)

He writes of his work to Fox (March, 1837):–

“In your last letter you urge me to get ready the book. I am now hard at work and give up everything else for it. Our plan is as follows: Captain Fitz-Roy writes two volumes out of the materials collected during the last voyage under Capt. King to Tierra del Fuego, and during our circumnavigation. I am to have the third volume, in which I intend giving a kind of journal of a naturalist, not following, however, always the order of time, but rather the order of position. The habits of animals will occupy a large portion, sketches of the geology, the appearance of the country, and personal details will make the hodge-podge complete. Afterwards I shall write an account of the geology in detail, and draw up some zoological papers. So that I have plenty of work for the next year or two, and till that is finished I will have no holidays.”

Another letter to Fox (July) gives an account of the progress of his work:–

“I gave myself a holiday and a visit to Shrewsbury [in June], as I had finished my Journal. I shall now be very busy in filling up gaps and getting it quite ready for the press by the first of August. I shall always feel respect for every one who has written a book, let it be what it may, for I had no idea of the trouble which trying to write common English could cost one. And, alas, there yet remains the worst part of all, correcting the press. As soon as ever that is done I must put my shoulder to the wheel and commence at the Geology. I have read some short papers to the Geological Society, and they were favourably received by the great guns, and this gives me much confidence, and I hope not a very great deal of vanity, though I confess I feel too often like a peacock admiring his tail. I never expected that my Geology would ever have been worth the consideration of such men as Lyell, who has been to me, since my return, a most active friend. My life is a very busy one at present, and I hope may ever remain so; though Heaven knows there are many serious drawbacks to such a life, and chief amongst them is the little time it allows one for seeing one’s natural friends. For the last three years, I have been longing and longing to be living at Shrewsbury, and after all now in the course of several months, I see my dear good people at Shrewsbury for a week. Susan and Catherine have, however, been staying with my brother here for some weeks, but they had returned home before my visit.”

Besides the work already mentioned he had much to busy him in making arrangements for the publication of the ‘Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle.’ The following letters illustrate this subject.]

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