Emma Darwin's letters to her son Francis, 1877-1885

Introduction by Christine Chua and John van Wyhe

There are 55 letters in this collection written by Emma Darwin to her son Francis Darwin (1848-1925) between 1877-1885. Letters from March 1879 to June 1882 are not in this collection. The next letter after Darwin's death, began July 1882. We have transcribed the first 25 letters up to July 1882. As there are no references or mentions of Darwin in the letters following, they are not transcribed here.

The early letters recount the activities of Francis's infant son Bernard who was born on 7 September 1876. His mother Amy Ruck died in childbed on 11 September 1876.

The letters also mention village activities, politics, visitors and travels away from Downe. Emma's daughter Bessy, who is often overlooked in biographies of Darwin and Emma, is frequently mentioned and we learn more of the role she plays in the family. These letters also reveal Darwin's role as a grandfather but with so many activities surrounding Bernard and later Erasmus, Darwin gets only passing mention.

According to their daughter Henrietta, Emma started using "F" for father in her letters to the children from 1868. Darwin who was "very conservative" playfully grumbled "I would as soon be called Dog." (Emma Darwin (1915) 2: 192)

Later insertions are placed where they seem to best fit. Annotations were later added to some letters by family members. New editorial annotations and notes are largely taken from Christine Chua's transcription of Emma Darwin's diaries (CUL-DAR242) and Paul van Helvert & John van Wyhe, Darwin: A Companion (2021).

As most readers today will be interested in references to Charles Darwin in these letters, we have extracted them below for convenience. Mentions of Darwin in the letters themselves are in bold. The transcribed letters can be found in CUL-DAR271.8.1.

Extracts regarding Charles Darwin.


Also send up F's ticket if it is on his chimney piece.

Mr Nash said the only thing to do wd be to see the Bromley master & F. thinks he meant to do it

F. is quite spry today—


I made F. put on a mustard plaister & he owned that his chest was better this mg.


F. keeps very well; but he will tell you what he is about─

Your letter has just come in & has delighted F─ Sachs appreciation of the Dipsacus is most satisfac─ & set of F. in a fresh rage with the R. S & a resolution that Sir Joseph shall hear of it somehow─ If ever he wants a little additional stimulus he has only to turn his mind to D. Galton & Horace, so that he is well off between the 2─


F. was out in it & in 1/4 of an hour the whole straight walk was covered with water & he had to walk thro' a river to get into the house.

F. was v. m. interested in yr letter, but no doubt he will write. He has been but poorly these 2 days─

We have Miss Thorley for 3 days v. prosperous─ Her deafness has improved her for F. as she quite lets him alone─


F. has stood her v. well, as indeed he has had little to do with her. He is but languid but has had v. few letters to write. I wanted to persuade him to go at once to L. H P. but I am afraid he won't.


We had a nice young German yesterday walking over from Bromley nephew of Prof. Jäger of Stuttgart, come to England to look for employment as Engineer & asking F. for any recommendation!! All we could do was to give him luncheon. He was very modest & quite a gentleman.

Lady. L. brought her proof sheets for F. to suggest any thing, & he finds it most excellently done─ She says it is Sir John's doing; but I don't believe he could have time.

F. could write his pretty note with a good conscience & he would have had to make it pretty whether or no.)

F. has found a delicious little clover seed pod burying its nose in the ground─


F. is v. well & not done up ─


Father has sent off the report of phys. by to day's post.


I am rather in a whirl on coming home─ so I will only enclose F's check which he says gives him less trouble than forestalling your allowance & you can pay him again when you are rich.─

F. is come home brisk but in rather a tornado among pamphlets books & letters (not many of these & one from such an idiot he is not going to answer it)─


F. is resolved to buy the machine from Horace & not hire it out, as it seemed to him that our own convenience gave way to that of all our neighbours─

F. is v. much better these few days, & will not hasten his visits; as indeed I doubt whether he could.


F. keeps pretty brisk & has not had (yet) so much birth day correspondence as usual yes 3 or 4 German letters today─ He has however recd a Gratulation-heft from Preyer containing an excellent life & a poem & such an exact list of his works that he can't think how they have obtained it.

The sewerage affairs are pretty well settled & F. lets Leo & Horace do their worst─

─ I tried Fred Myers article on Virgil to F.─ w. succeeded admirably in sending him to sleep, but he did not want any more of it when he was awake ─


"Ubba dubba knocked Ubba Lubba's head but it wasn't much" He always says "I think" now─ so I am afraid he will get to speak well before v. long─ you will be surprised to hear of Babba's sternness ─

F. is v. desponding about it & in his secret heart believes that it will never get finished.

F. has had a letter from Gen. Kaufman from Tachkent sending him a collection of wheat from Central Asia He seems glad to have it.


Lady Lubbock is writing lives of F. One for the University Magazine, & they also want a photo─ but mean to be content without one─ The other is coming today but it is a high wind & not suitable.

The last 1/2 hour before he went a Mr Prothero (fellow of Kings) staying at the Daniells walked over for a call, & Horace was regretting he had not asked F. to come in─ a v. nice man.


Mr Richmond (accomp. by a most lovely young Italian to sit as model in the red cloak) came on Wed. & unluckily F. has been partic. unwell; so that his sittings are v. irksome to him but I read aloud now r. fatigues him less than talking.


F. has been very poorly but is up to his average now─


Mrs Nash has brought B. a baby musical box which you grind yourself & Babba is very fond of playing on it too.

F. who is always rather desponding about Mr Nash & thinks he will ruin himself. He talks so lightly of setting up the making of beet root sugar & has sent a young man to France to "look around" & see how it is done ─ & F. thinks it requires a complete education.


F. is very well & has had no bothers. A letter from Mosley m. pleased at his liking his book (w. F. thinks very clever) a young Owen of Woodhouse is going out as paid assistant w. Mr Nash.


F. opened Crawley & I answered it. He was not sure Dr D. did not mean him─


We are getting very near our time of starting & I think F. rather likes the thoughts of it. We go on Thursday to sleep at Eras. to be fresh for Sat mg─

Sir J. Paget has unearthed another life of Old Eras. a French one & F. thinks he must have it looked at & the book cannot be borrowed, so he is afraid he may ask you do it─


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