RECORD: Abbot, F. E. 1882.12.03. [Recollections of Darwin]. CUL-DAR112.A1-A2. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker, edited by John van Wyhe 8.2008. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Darwin Online manuscript catalogue, enter its Identifier here. Letter of four pages on one folded leaf. Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.


[in another hand] F. E. Abbott

Cambridge, U.S.A., Dec. 3, 1882

W.E. Darwin, Esq


My dear Sir,

In accordance with my promise at the call with which you surprised and delighted me a few weeks ago, I enclose to you careful and complete copies of the eight letters with which I was honored by your illustrious father. It was a great disappointment to me to miss your second call; I was at that very time trying to find you, and returned from an unsuccessful second attempt to find that you had most kindly called again in my absence. Pray forgive the delay in sending these copies; it has taken more time than I expected to make them, and I have had little to command.


I have been unable to read over again these letters, so full of the unconscious nobility of character which awakened my love no less than it challenged my admiration, without deep and strong emotion. I dare not call my ten tear with the Index an absolute failure, when it won for me such precious sympathy from one whom I reverence as I reverence only two other men of my generation – Ralph Waldo Emerson and Charles Summer. It would seem to you extravagance if I should express in fitting terms the gratitude with which I first received, and now re-read, your father's priceless words. You cannot know how passionately I loved the cause I worked for – what sneers and active hostility I met in front, what cold suspicion, jealousy, and stabs in the


back I experienced from behind, what utter extinction of my glowing hopes I was doomed to see. Today I am stranded as a battered ship on the shore, powerless alike in the world of thought and that of action by reason of the superstition from which I strove to free my fellow-men. Looking inward as honestly as I can, I can discover no cause for my enforced uselessness except an inflexible adherence to the ideal that commanded, and still commands, my most reverent and obedient submission. How can any one understand the comfort that comes to me from the knowledge that such a man as Charles Darwin saw into the spirit and essence of my work, and extended to me his friendly hand?


It would indeed give me keen pleasure, if these letters should be incorporated in your brothers “Life” of your father. I am no judge of their relative importance, as compared with other letters, yet I suspect that no other would so strikingly exhibit his chivalrous sympathy with a despised and hated cause, just because it was the cause of truth.
And I cannot say this without saying also that your own letters, preserved with his and read again with them, are inescapably associated with them in my mind. I know not whether we shall ever meet again – probably not, unless you visit America once more but the whole-hearted way in which you wrote to me and in which you have come to see me, unfashionable and obnoxious to so many as I am, will never be forgotten. Will you let me thank you right out of my heart? If you will, it must be sincerely done.

Faithfully yours,

Francis E. Abbott

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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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