Charles Darwin was born on this day in 1809 (that is, Feb 12th, the day I typed this; not necessarily the day you’re reading it. Time, huh?), which means it’s Darwin Day, which means I have a perfectly valid excuse to send you a compilation of excerpts from the many letters of his that I’ve bookmarked over the years, which means you are soon to laugh with, chuckle at, relate to, and marvel at, a modest and often amusingly grumpy genius posthumously known as the ‘Father of Evolution,’ a title so weighty I have no doubt he would have groaned about it by letter.
Enjoy. And may your weekend at least be free of bad news.
You must know that after my Georgraphy, 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 course 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, well I only wash my feet 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 my brother, and he burst out in laughing and said I had better tell her to come and wash them herself, 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.
Charles Darwin, age 12 | Letter to a friend, 4 Jan 1822
I am dying by inches, from not having any body to talk to about insects:—my only reason for writing, is to remove a heavy weight from my mind, so now you must understand, what you will perceive before you come to the end of this; that I am writing merely for my own pleasure & not your’s.
Charles Darwin, age 19 | Letter to his cousin, William Fox, 12 Jun 1828
The absolute want of room [on HMS Beagle] is an evil, that nothing can surmount.
Charles Darwin | Letter to John Henslow, 15 Nov 1831
Since writing the first part of [this] letter nothing has occurred except crossing the Equator, and being shaved.
Charles Darwin | Letter to his father, 26 Feb 1832
I loathe, I abhor the sea, & all ships which sail on it.
Charles Darwin | Letter to his sister, Susan Darwin, 4 Aug 1836
I know your feelings about science; they are something like those of my brothers, who, when I was telling him some wonderful facts in geology, exclaimed, “Oh be quiet, I don’t care a damn for the whole Kingdom of Nature”.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Charles Whitley, 8 May 1838
At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. Heaven forfend me from Lamarck nonsense of a “tendency to progression,” “adaptations from the slow willing of animals,”etc.! But the conclusions I am led to are not widely different from his—though the means of change are wholly so—I think I have found out (here’s presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Joseph Hooker, 11 Jan 1844
I hate a Barnacle as no man ever did before, not even a Sailor in a slow-sailing ship.
Charles Darwin | Letter to his cousin, William Fox, 24 Oct 1852
[O]ften a cold shudder has run through me & I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted my life to a phantasy.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Charles Lyell, 23 Nov 1859
There have been many reviews in England, opposed to me, but yours is the single one which seems to me perfectly fair & just & candid. I literally agree to every word you say. I admit there are no direct proofs of the greater modifications which I believe in. I most fully admit that I by no means explain away all the vast difficulties. The only difference between us is that I attach much more weight to the explanation of facts, & somewhat less weight to the difficulties than you do. I am conscious that I always jump at any theory which groups & explains facts; & attach too little weight to unexplained difficulties. Your mind is more cautious & I fear that the world would say more philosophical. The first part of your Review gives a really quite admirable condensation of my views.
Charles Darwin | Letter to François Jules Pictet in response to a critique of On the Origin of Species, 1 Apr 1960
The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!
Charles Darwin | Letter to Asa Gray, 3 Apr 1860
Your letter has pleased me very much, and I most completely agree with you on the parts which are strongest and which are weakest.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Alfred Wallace, 18 May 1860
There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope & believe what he can.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Asa Gray, 22 May 1860
I am very tired, very stomachy & hate nearly the whole world. So good night, & take care of your digestion which means Brain.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Thomas Huxley, 10 Sep 1860
I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders. I am going to write a little Book for Murray on orchids & today I hate them worse than everything so farewell & in a sweet frame of mind, I am
Charles Darwin | Letter to Charles Lyell, 1 Oct 1861
I hate myself, I hate clover and I hate bees.
Charles Darwin | Letter to John Lubbock, 3 Sep 1862
What an utter desert is life without love.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Joseph Hooker, 27 Nov 1863
It drives me mad & I know it does you too, that one has no time for reading anything beyond what must be read: my room is encumbered with unread books.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Joseph Hooker, 21 May 1868
I will have you tried by a court martial of Botanists & have you shot. Perhaps the grapes are sour, which makes me so savage & virtuous at your deserting your work.
Charles Darwin | Letter to Joseph Hooker, 17 Mar 1869
Over the years I’ve bookmarked some of these letters in titles such as: Charles Darwin: Voyaging; More Letters of Charles Darwin; The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin; The Correspondence of Charles Darwin; and Complete Works of Charles Darwin. However, most, if not all, can be found at the Darwin Correspondence Project, whose magnificent online repository is proof that the internet has not been a total waste of time.
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